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William Burroughs in Film
An exploration of the application of Burroughs' concepts from his collaborative experiments to the later more mainstream works of Naked Lunch and Beat
by Lord Summerisle

William S. Burroughs is an incredibly important beat generation figure whose influence can be seen from literature to music to film. So much has been written about him (be it his writing, his concepts or his colourful bohemian lifestyle) that when taking upon this task one is confronted with an endless amount of research material, one book giving reference to another, then another etc. Therefore it is necessary to begin by identifying what areas of Burroughs varied materials and concepts will be focal to this work.

In order to explore Burroughs influence in film one must identify the key concepts within his literature which translate to themes and motifs within related film work. This includes investigating the cut-up technique and its development as well as his theories on the ‘virus power' or the ‘word virus' and the ‘control' issues within his work, as well as his ideas on gender, sex and addiction.

This will lead to the important collaborative work done in the 1960's with Brion Gysin, Antony Balch and Ian Somerville, putting into institutional context Towers Open Fire (1963) and The Cut-Ups (1967) as well as textually analysing the meanings within these films and referring this to Burroughs signature concepts.

From here the invistigation will progress chronologically, tracing Burroughs' views and influences on (as well as his pre-empting of) the punk movement, his tape recorder experiments and the importance of his sonic theories, known as ‘The Invisible Generation' concepts, which went on to spawn the birth of industrial music and bands such as Throbbing Gristle (1976-1981) whose focal member, Genesis P-Orridge, had an instrumental role in the latter days of Burroughs life. This links to the German independent film Decoder (1984), which features both Burroughs and P-Orridge and is heavily thematically influenced by Burroughs, in particular Electronic Revolution .

Into the 1990's and the film Naked Lunch (1991), I will look at David Cronenberg's own style and how he has been influenced by Burroughs as well as exploring how the contrasting of their similar styles and ideas combined to produce the final film. I will also look at how Cronenberg's semi-biographical handling of the text differs from Gysin's original screenplay and Burroughs' views on both. Progressing into the year 2000 I will show how Burroughs influence continues to the present day with the little known Burroughs bio-pic Beat (2000) and its more mainstream treatment as well as briefly analysing the Darren Aronofsky movie Requiem For a Dream (2000), based on the novel by Hubert Selby, which deals with Burroughs-esque themes in a contemporary setting.

All of this will be backed up and contextualised by pertinent and informed theorists, such as writer of Naked Lens, Beat Cinema Jack Sargeant and Burroughs analyst Eric Mottram.

introduction | part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | >>

The Films

As Writer
William Buys a Parrot (1963)
Towers Open Fire (1963)
The Cut-Ups (1966)
The Discipline of D.E. (1982)
short story
Taking Tiger Mountain (1983)
story Bladerunner
Drugstore Cowboy (1964)
additional dialogue - uncredited
The Black Rider (1990)
Thanksgiving Prayer (1991)
Naked Lunch (1991)
The Junky's Christmas (1993)
Drug-Taking and The Arts (1994)
novel Naked Lunch
Ah Pook is Here (1994)
The Last Words of Dutch Schultz (2001)
book: The Last Words of Dutch Schultz: A Fiction in the Form of a Film Script

article posted
27 August 2005

See all of Lord Summerilse' reviews