William S. Burroughs’ Home Movies, Featuring Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Steve Buscemi & Cats

Giv­ing Gus Van San­t’s Drug­store Cow­boy a re-watch a cou­ple of weeks ago, I found I espe­cial­ly enjoyed William S. Bur­roughs’ appear­ance toward the end as — what else? — an aged but wise drug user in whose benev­o­lent pres­ence Matt Dil­lon’s pro­tag­o­nist comes to life-chang­ing con­clu­sions. That pic­ture rep­re­sent­ed a break into the main­stream, or close to it, for Van Sant, a direc­tor pre­vi­ous­ly known for Mala Noche, a stark black-and-white take on street hus­tlers on Port­land’s Skid Row.

But Bur­roughs’ pres­ence, among oth­er things, allowed Drug­store Cow­boy to keep a cer­tain raw edge. If you real­ly want to see Bur­roughs’ in a con­text of cin­e­mat­ic raw­ness, though, have a look at these home movies. We’ve pulled them out of the inter­net’s attic as a cel­e­bra­tion of the Naked Lunch author’s 101st birth­day. Only light­ly and taste­ful­ly edit­ed, these VHS gems (part one, part two) can­did­ly depict Bur­roughs at home in Lawrence, Kansas in 1996, just a year before his death.

They also find him in the com­pa­ny of such notable friends as Pat­ti Smith, Steve Busce­mi, and Allen Gins­berg, smok­ing, drink­ing, and — in Smith’s case — bust­ing out the gui­tar. Cats, as promised, roam through the frame. You might not call Bur­roughs him­self, made some­what less exu­ber­ant by time, the life of the par­ty, but he does seem to have radi­at­ed a kind of askew ani­mat­ing spir­it until the end. It cer­tain­ly kept him sur­round­ed by coun­ter­cul­tur­al lumi­nar­ies, all of them sure­ly still as keen as that young phar­ma­cy-rob­ber to learn from him.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mak­ing of Drug­store Cow­boy, Gus Van Sant’s First Major Film (1989)

Hear a Great Radio Doc­u­men­tary on William S. Bur­roughs Nar­rat­ed by Iggy Pop

William S. Bur­roughs Reads His First Nov­el, Junky

William S. Bur­roughs on the Art of Cut-up Writ­ing

William S. Bur­roughs on Sat­ur­day Night Live, 1981

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Viktor Suviks says:

    Imag­ine your­self in a hall whose inte­ri­or walls are total­ly lined with mir­rors. There is a cir­cle of fold­ing chairs in the cen­ter of the hall around a large mul­ti-faceted dia­mond. Here, have a seat.

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