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burroughs

Burroughs: The Movie (1983), one of this writer’s favorite documentaries, makes for a must-see viewing experience in its extras-packed Criterion Collection Blu-ray release.

 

Unaccountably lionized murderer, heroin addict, pedophile, absentee father, allowanced wastrel, and “novelist” William S. Burroughs receives the star treatment in Howard Brookner’s 1983 film Burroughs: The Movie. “He’s up there with the Pope, you know?” gushes unashamed Burroughs groupie Patti Smith. “You can’t revere him enough. One of the greatest minds of our times, you know?” This is typical of the bizarre affection inspired by the eccentric writer, who gave Brookner unusually candid access to his life and was generous with his time in cooperating with the production of this entertaining documentary. Others appearing in the film include Terry Southern, Herbert Huncke, and Burroughs’s assistant and “son” James Grauerholz. Crooked-mouthed creep, brain damage evangelist, and NAMBLA alumnus Allen Ginsberg, who for a time was Burroughs’s lover, offers various reminiscences and characterizes Burroughs’s killing of his wife as a kind of assisted suicide (for a dissenting account, viewers of the Criterion release have recourse to a recorded conversation between Brookner and Burroughs biographer Ted Morgan).

Twitchy-faced Burroughs, whose incoherent mutterings published under the title Naked Lunch were included on the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged “classics”, is imagined by his admirers to be some species of anti-establishment rebel; but, beginning with EMI’s inclusion of the notorious reprobate on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (glamorously, right next to Marilyn Monroe), Burroughs has repeatedly been promoted as a countercultural icon for gullible youth through collaborations and endorsements from entertainment industry figures like Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Dennis Hopper, Gus Van Sant, David Cronenberg, R.E.M., U2, and self-pitying Nirvana belly-acher Kurt Cobain. He was even introduced as “the greatest living writer in America” when he appeared on Saturday Night Live on NBC in 1981, and his books, furthermore, are published by international giant Penguin.

The contradictions of the Burroughs persona are on display throughout, the patrician features and gentlemanly manners masking an ultra-degenerate who insists, “I don’t like violence,” but constantly talks and writes about it and delights in showing off his collection of guns and exotic weaponry. Burroughs, as captured in the film, speaks with relish of his dream of death squads that will hunt down and kill heterosexuals who oppose the establishment of a “Gay State”. For all of this, however, the film remains a bit of a whitewash, making no mention, for instance, of what Jim Jarmusch diagnoses in his audio commentary as Burroughs’s hatred of women. “Burroughs would have been a great CIA agent,” Jarmusch also observes, which, if true, says little about the moral caliber of that agency’s personnel. Curiously, Burroughs actually interviewed for a position with OSS founder William “Wild Bill” Donovan himself. Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Burroughs: The Movie is altogether a fascinating portrait of one of the most contemptible human beings who ever lived.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

 

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Part II of

The Filthy Films of Adam Sandler in Ideological Content Analysis:

A Cranko-Politico-Critical Retrospective

of the Institute for Advanced Sandler Studies

AdamSandler

1995’s Billy Madison finds Sandler expanding his retard schtick from Saturday Night Live into the feature-length characterization of a bizarre, hyperactive American Oblomov, an irresponsible man-child of means who lives off the family fortune and spends his days in epic slacking: partying, drinking, hallucinating, and generally wasting his life.  Unfortunately, his lifetime of pampering means that spoiled Billy never learned to do anything for himself; and only the influence of his Fortune 500 hotel tycoon father (Darren McGavin) prevented him from flunking out of school and allowed him to undeservedly graduate.

Learning this for the first time, Billy is distraught; and to prove to the skeptical Mr. Madison that he, Billy, and not the scheming and evil Eric (Bradley Whitford) should take over direction of the family hotel chain, Billy hits upon the idea of demonstrating his ability to achieve on his own by tearing through all the public school grades again, from kindergarten to high school, in just a matter of wild and wacky weeks.  Along the way he makes a number of friends in grade school and falls in love with one of his teachers, the cute but tough Miss Vaughn (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) – but will it be enough to counter Eric’s unscrupulous effort to undermine the project and sabotage Billy’s righteous birthright?

Billy Madison revels in the absurd, celebrates the obscene, and wallows in the scatalogical like the world is ending.  What might on paper sound like a total cinematic disaster is, however, turned into a surprisingly and defiantly funny character creation in the hands of Adam Sandler.  Viewers are challenged not to laugh when Billy, his crush on Miss Vaughn in full bloom, whimpers pitiably in an aside that he, “Want[s] to touch the hiney”.  The laughs thin out somewhat during the film’s obligatory inspirational third act, but Sandler’s inimitable mojo keeps the ball of snot rolling, and smile-sparking supporting turns from Chris Farley, Norm MacDonald, and Steve Buscemi certainly do no harm.

Viewed with an open heart, Billy Madison is, in all honesty, a stupid but also a pretty funny comedy of the gleefully gross, gutter-snorkeling variety and earns 3.5 of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Billy Madison is:

7. Anti-feminist.  Miss Vaughn, though she can be stern and in one scene bests Billy in a physical altercation, appears to become interested in him after she lets him get away with an “assault” in which he pretends to fall on a school bus and exploits the opportunity to grope her breasts.  How incorrigibly sexist!

6. State-skeptical.  Public schools’ employee screening practices are called into question by the revelation that Billy’s grade school principal, Mr. Anderson (Josh Mostel) is actually a former professional wrestler with no teaching degree.  One of the teachers (Dina Platias) is a slightly spacy hippie who engages in some kind of ritual freakout when the kids are out at recess.  A bus driver (Chris Farley) is clearly full of rage and a man who could snap at any moment.  He also steals the children’s lunches.  Public grade school education appears to consist of coloring exercises, crafts, and spelling bees.  See also no. 1.

5. Anti-family/anti-marriage.  Children can be brats.  A trivia host offers the category “My Wife the Tramp”.  The mother of one of Billy’s classmates indicates that she is sexually available while her husband is serving a prison sentence.

4. Pro-drug.  Billy drinks heavily, the only consequences being laziness and humorous, Harvey-style hallucinations of a giant penguin.  He eats paste with gusto and offers some to a classmate.  His slacker buddies joke about getting a donkey drunk.

3. Pro-miscegenation.  Billy’s fat black maid (Theresa Merritt) repeatedly flirts with him and offers to take her top off to cheer him up.  Bestiality receives an endorsement when the bus driver meets and finds ecstasy with the penguin of Billy’s hallucinations.  Madison, despite his all-American name and Anglo-Saxon father, is unmistakably a Jew and so cannot resist the blonde temptation of Teutonic “hiney”.

2. Pro-gay.  Among Billy’s dirty magazine subscriptions is one called She-Male Fiesta.  Mr. Anderson gives Billy an obscene Valentine’s Day card informing him that he is horny and later shamelessly grinds against him in public.  The bus driver, taking over from Miss Vaughn, does an educational striptease for Billy to induce him to learn his lessons.  Lesbians engage in a three-way kiss.

1. Capital-ambivalent.  Billy’s untamed lifestyle and various eccentricities suggest that a privileged upbringing results in a spoiled, abnormal personality, and the story of Billy’s first fraudulent experience in the public schools indicates that the rich simply disregard the pesky rules that everybody else has to follow in life.  That the wealthy Mr. Madison puts his son through the public schools at all may point to a humble adherence to his Main Street roots and everyman origins – or it might be that Mr. Madison sees deficient and academically undemanding public schools as offering the easiest path to graduation for his son. Meritocracy receives a nod in the acknowledgement that Mr. Madison is a self-made man, and his company eventually winds up in the hands of his most qualified and deserving subordinate (Larry Hankin).  However, had Billy chosen to accept the direction of the company, this impression would have been instantly dissipated by the picture of a barely functional simpleton jumping to first place in the corporate world just because of whose son he happens to be.  He instead opts to go the populist route and become a teacher himself.

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