burroughs

 

Review by Trylon resident beatnik Dave Gomshay

 

Many editions of William S. Burroughs’ books come emblazoned with Norman Mailer’s oft-quoted declaration of the iconic writer’s genius, but it is model and future Once Bitten actress Lauren Hutton who gets to sing us his praises at the very beginning of Howard Brookner’s Burroughs: The Movie. The newly restored documentary from 1983 cold opens with an old clip of host Hutton introducing Burroughs to the studio audience, and millions of at-home viewers, of Saturday Night Live. (Trivia tidbit: that episode’s musical guest? Rick James.) Truly an original Not Ready for Prime Time Player if there ever was one, Burroughs shuffles his papers while sitting behind a desk and launches right into a version of his classic piece, “Twilight’s Last Gleamings”.

What would an audience most likely largely unfamiliar with Burroughs have made of his appearance? Here was an elderly man dressed in a conservative suit and tie giving a spoken word performance about a drunk, cigarette-smoking doctor conducting a horribly botched appendectomy aboard a sinking cruise ship before suddenly aborting the surgery, grabbing whatever random drugs are handy in the makeshift operating room, and hightailing it past crowds of fleeing passengers onto a lifeboat meant only for women and children. All delivered in a creepy, gravelly drawl. The SNL audience seems to eat it up, and the clip ends with enthusiastic applause and a close-up of Burroughs flashing a triumphant rictus for the camera. How did this man come to this moment, earning the designation of (at least according to Hutton) “the greatest living writer in America”?

Brookner’s film patiently unfolds out of this rousing introduction. Through interviews, performances, vintage film clips and photos, we are presented with impressionistic snapshots of Burroughs’ upbringing, his work, and his daily routines. It covers the highlights: his privileged background as the scion of a wealthy St. Louis family, his crucial friendships with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac during the early days of the Beat movement, and the development of his disorienting and experimental cut-up style of art, a process first “discovered” by his close friend, the artist Brion Gysin. The film also follows Burroughs as he enjoys a renaissance of sorts amongst the avant-garde in the early ‘80s. He poses for photo shoots with Laurie Anderson, hangs out with painter Francis Bacon, and gives sold out readings in punk rock clubs. Patti Smith likens him to the Pope.

The image of Burroughs the Legend was that of a radical, dangerous, and often very funny writer interested in the ongoing battle between control/addiction and total autonomy. As an out gay man he threatened the conservative status quo of his time. He generously peppered his surreal novels with frequently autobiographical and graphic depictions of the unholy trinity of drug use, bizarre sex, and violence. But the everyday Burroughs we observe in this documentary comes across as quite genial as he meanders through his hometown reliving childhood memories and visiting with a former family gardener. Burroughs reminisces about an old “Irish crone” who looked after him and taught him the lost art of calling toads which he proceeds to demonstrate, emitting a low humming sound by some bushes. (No toads appear.) Later, he and Allen Ginsberg playfully goof around on a city rooftop, arms warmly slung around each other. He also demonstrates his love of exotic weaponry back in his NYC dwelling space, a former YMCA locker room appropriately nicknamed “The Bunker”. He’s positively giddy when he successfully discharges his blowgun and brandishes a wicked blackjack.

Burroughs attests that he abhors violence, but it’s hard for those weapon-wielding scenes not to evoke the uncomfortable fact that earlier in his life he accidentally killed his wife Joan Vollmer during a stupid, drunken attempt to shoot a glass off of her head. (Though gay, he was twice married to women; once simply to obtain a visa for a friend and once to Joan, a relationship grounded more on intellectual compatibility and mutual drug use rather than any sexual connection.) Throughout his life, Burroughs had talked of an “Ugly Spirit” which had haunted him and at times literally possessed him, always initiating episodes of abject depression and absolute insanity. The presence of a parasitic, destructive entity controlling one’s actions abounds in his writing, and it’s a similar circumstance he offers for why he went through with the infamous “William Tell routine” with his wife. Still, Burroughs lived with significant guilt over his wife’s death for the rest of his days, which is why it’s even more unpleasant listening to Allen Ginsberg essentially blame the death on Joan herself. Filmmaker Brookner captures Ginsberg putting forth a clumsy apology for Burroughs’ actions, suggesting that Joan was depressed and terribly addicted to drugs and alcohol (true) and therefore sorta-maybe-kinda egged Burroughs into shooting the gun at her as a sort of suicidal death wish. It’s cringe-inducing to watch Ginsberg carefully search for the right words in support of his theory as if he can’t believe what he’s saying himself.

The film is filled with these kinds of candid moments with Burroughs and his circle of eccentric associates, some similarly awkward, others genuinely sweet. Burroughs was no doubt a difficult man to cozy up to. Early in the documentary, his longtime assistant James Grauerholz says that Burroughs would make a great prisoner, implying that he somehow finds comfortable routines in which to thrive despite living in claustrophobic confines like his fortress-like Bunker. Ironically, in his work Burroughs returned again and again to the theme of complete freedom from oppressive systems of authority. His cut-up experiments with writing, sound, and visual art were designed to reprogram and jolt his audience out of the restrictive beliefs and habits that controlled their lives and that they took for granted. Burroughs: The Movie is a welcome gift to fans of this complicated figure and will spur further interest from those new to his life and work.  – Dave Gomshay

 

Dave Gomshay’s first exposure to William Burroughs came as an innocent young teenager when he randomly pulled a copy of Cities of the Red Night off the shelf of his library’s Science Fiction section while searching for a rollicking new space yarn to read. Shocked by the cover’s reproduction of Bruegel’s gruesome painting The Triumph of Death and unable to make heads or tails out of the phantasmagorical, time-hopping plot, he’s been a fan ever since.

 

Burroughs: The Movie screens Friday and Saturday, January 30 and 31 at 7:00 and 8:45, and Sunday, February 1 at 5:00 and 6:45 at the Trylon.  You can purchase advance tickets here.

 

double5

Review by Andrea Matthews Clark

 

“Paramount’s SCHOCKING, SUSPENSE-FILLED MASTERPIECE OF LOVE…AND MURDER.” This was how Double Indemnity was billed when it was released in 1944. The tagline: “You can’t kiss away a Murder!” Immediately we know we’re in for some pulpy fiction fun – a film noir journey that promises to delight.

And Double Indemnity delivers. It crackles with all the fabulous elements of films noir: the wicked blonde, the man she seduces into killing her husband, and the snappy dialogue between our two doomed lovers. Director Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay – based on a 1943 novella by James M. Cain – and the perfect alchemy of this trio of talent created one of the most famous films of the genre.

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck bring the aforementioned doomed lovers to life – making a 180-degree shift from their traditionally sweet and squeaky-clean roles. It works beautifully. The film begins with MacMurray – insurance salesman Walter Neff – staggering into his office, bleeding from a gunshot wound. He falls into a chair and records a confession on the newly invented Dictaphone. We know, from the start, that things won’t end well. But not for a minute does this lose our attention. It actually draws us in, eager to witness the apparent downfall of this professional, but broken, businessman. We realize right away that this is going to be a tawdry ride. It’s irresistible.

Neff has partnered with the dangerously intriguing Phyllis Dietrichson, played by Stanwyck, to do away with the latter’s husband. This, after she takes out a life insurance policy with a pretty payoff in case of her husband’s accidental death. Together, they plan the murder of Mr. Dietrichson, their eyes on the prize of the insurance monies and the chance to be together.

But as wily insurance investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) knows, it’s never that simple. “Murder’s never perfect. Always comes apart sooner or later, and when two people are involved it’s usually sooner.”
This is great fun to watch. And the gritty Los Angeles setting, the ominous train track that will play a role in the murder, are just right. The cinematographer makes magic, with light peeking through partially closed blinds, creating a black-and-white world of shadow and brightness. These elements, combined with the dialogue, seal the deal; this is film noir at its best.

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or new to the genre, you’re bound to get a kick from this hard-boiled story. I never tire of it. –Andrea Matthews Clark

 

Double Indemnity screens Thursday, January 29 at 7:30 pm at the Heights.  You can purchase advance tickets here.

 

zatoichi3

 

Review by Trylon master swordsman Pat Vehling

Spanning a staggering 26 films and 100 television episodes over the course of 27 years, the persona of Zatoichi is one of the most prolific characters on screen in film and television industries in post-war Japan – the only legacy that can best Zatoichi is Tora-San, a series spanning 48 installments that were released between 1969 and 1995, but was of vastly different material. Where Zatoichi was concerned with the rough day-to-day affairs of honor and valor through violence and sheer dumb luck, Tora-San, an unlucky but charming bachelor, was bumbling his way through one failed attempt at marriage after another.

Taking place during the Meiji era in Japan, the films of Zatoichi represent a period in Japan’s history where the citizens were introduced to strange Western concepts and innovations that shook their lives due to political decisions that mostly kept the island of Japan isolated from the rest of the world. This isolation led to a corrupt government where the majority of the people, particularly farmers, were left to fend for themselves.

Takeshi Kitano, most notably known for his plethora of Japanese gangster movies, revisits this age-old tale complete with the cliched but intriguing concept of a corrupt government official abusing the people, something to which our ill-fated pseudo hero Zatoichi is no stranger – he became an orphan at the hand of corruption. Kitano who directs and also stars as our blonde and blind hero, creates a world where the weak fight back and sometimes win, of course at the expense of the loss of the lives of family and close friends.

The character of Zatoichi is a representation of the pain and suffering inflicted on the average citizen during these times; an image of an oppressed society that can no longer continue to suffer through a dying and corrupt government. Despite such a multi-centuries’ long anger, we are given a view at a precise and delicate deconstruction of that oppression, thankfully at the hands of a master swordsman. – Pat Vehling

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi screens at the Trylon Monday and Tuesday, January 26 and 27, at 7:00 and 9:15.  You can get your advance tickets here.

 

 

shackleton

 

 

We’re in the depths of a brutal Minnesota winter, so it might seem weird to go see a movie about a failed expedition to the South Pole.  But Ernest Shackleton’s perilous 1914 journey was an adventure the likes of which we can only imagine today. And the feature film made along the way, Endurance aka South (1920) is an amazing document of that voyage.

Shackleton’s crew wasn’t particularly well equipped.  Their wooden ship, the Endurance, wasn’t large.  They had no radios, and no way to call for help if things got dicey.

As it turned out, things got very dicey.  The Endurance was trapped in ice, its hull crushed, and the crew had to travel by lifeboat and by foot hundreds of miles to safety.

This silent film is rarely screened theatrically, and Dreamland Faces will be providing live musical accompaniment. –Michael Popham

Endurance aka South screens Friday and Saturday, January 9 and 10 at 7:00 and 9:00; and Sunday, January 11 at 5:00 and 7:00.  Tickets are $10 for this live musical event and you can purchase tickets here.

 

 

 

 

strait-jacket-2

Notorious but lovable schockmeister William Castle teams up with a fading Joan Crawford in this dumb, crude but quite entertaining melodrama. Lucy Harbin (Crawford) finds her husband in bed with a another woman.  Grabbing an axe, she dispatches them both in a grisly fashion, without realizing that her young daughter Carol (Diane Baker) has witnessed the whole nightmarish scene.

Twenty years later, Carol is an up-and-coming sculptor and is about to be married.  She seems to have put her awful childhood behind her, but then she gets word that Lucy is about to be released from the mental hospital.  Once Lucy arrives at the home of her brother Bill (Leif Erickson) her eccentric behavior makes it clear that she’s quite far from all right — and when people start getting chopped up with axes, the list of suspects is pretty short!

This is one of the horror films that Crawford made after her late-career success with Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962). While it isn’t the best film of her career, it isn’t the worst (as is often asserted); in fact, she is quite delightful in spite of being asked to play a 25-year-old in a flashback sequence (she was 56 at the time).  In any event, Crawford’s career low (1970’s unintentionally hilarious Trog) still lay in the future.  –Michael Popham

Strait-Jacket screens Friday and Saturday, January 2 and 3 at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, January 4 at 5:00 and 7:00, at the Trylon. We ask any patrons bringing axes to the screening to kindly check them at the box office.  Advance tickets are on sale here.