Archives for posts with tag: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
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.

 

Wild poster

A career highlight showcase for star Reese Witherspoon, this freewheeling emotional odyssey into triumphant you-go-girlism concerns real-life tramp Cheryl Strayed, whose epic hike along the Pacific Crest Trail takes her from “piece of shit” and “hobo” to liberated and self-actualized piece of shit with an Oprah’s Book Club pick. As with all wilderness pictures, from Jeremiah Johnson to Rescue Dawn, there is an innate fascination to the scenes of Strayed’s one-woman struggle with the elements. The interspersed flashbacks to the unpleasant experiences that drive her to make her quest, however, are hit-and-miss, diminishing any sympathy this reviewer is able to muster for her. Laura Dern appears as Strayed’s long-suffering, cancer-ridden mother.

4 out of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Wild is:

6. Drug-ambivalent. Wild sends mixed messages about Cheryl’s life as a heroin addict. Marijuana, however, seems to be a laid-back thing to do. Alcohol appears as a no-no, though, with Cheryl vomiting after some hard stuff. (see also no. 1)

5. Anti-Christian. Foulmouthed Cheryl utters multiple blasphemies.

4. Anti-redneck. The rural white male is a constant menace hovering in the gloaming of Cheryl’s consciousness, leering at her and making unsavory advances.

3. Pro-choice. Cheryl has an abortion.

2. New age, peddling mass market paperback mysticism that might have been cribbed from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The film ends with Witherspoon reciting some philosophical gobbledygook about how nobody knows what leads to what – the scientific method, contrary to this reviewer’s mistaken impression all his life, turning out never to have been invented after all – life being one big mysterious journey, each seeming adversity or disastrous decision constituting a necessary step toward destiny’s fulfillment. People – and, by extension, societies – might as well experiment to their hearts’ content on this starry trek of objectively valueless existence.

1. Feminist. Wild celebrates the junkie-adulteress-intellectual as heroine. One of its many nuggets of womany wisdom is that divorces, unlike marriages, tend to be lasting. Regarding her serial back-alley extramarital humps and heroin habit, Cheryl apologizes to her nice-guy husband (Thomas Sadoski) but later confesses that she harbors no regrets about anything. Adrienne Rich’s poem “Power”, a favorite of the protagonist, furnishes Wild with its theme. Marie Curie’s “wounds”, Rich explains, “came from the same source as her power”. Witherspoon’s body, accordingly, appears with unsightly contusions and cuts throughout the movie, these presumably being the feminist stigmata symbolizing the suffering through which she has attained her “power”. In a parallel characterization, Cheryl’s mother is an abused wife who abandons her alcoholic husband and goes back to school for her education because, she says, she never felt like she was in the driver’s seat of her own life.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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