Today was the Centennial of William S. Burrough’s emergence into the ‘Interzone,’ and the beginning of his extraordinary 83-year odyssey. The decades would take him to Los Alamos, NM before the Manhattan Project; Nazi Germany in the build-up to WWII; Chicago as an exterminator; New York City as a junkie and early conspirator of Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac; Louisiana to grow pot; Mexico to write, play William Tell, search for exotic and non-exotic drugs; and Tangiers, Morocco, to do the same albeit more cheaply before returning to New York.
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He continued writing and creating multimedia works and had an influence that is felt to this day. A new literary technique, the cut-up, was invented with Brion Gysin, and key books — among them Junky, Queer, Naked Lunch and The Soft Machine — were written and published amid much controversy (Naked Lunch remains the subject of the last major American obscenity trial in 1966). Burroughs influenced a wide range of artists (including musicians Steely Dan and Duran Duran, who made his book Wild Boys into a music video) and he even appeared in Hollywood films, including Twister (1989) with Harry Dean Stanton and Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy (also 1989).
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FilmOn’s VOD service has a great film for viewing, William S. Burroughs: Commissioner of Sewers (1991). Built around an interview with German television presenter Jürgen Ploog, which shows a smoothed-gravel side of Burroughs very rarely seen, the film also features a 1986 multi-media reading at ‘Filmkunst ‘66’ and excerpts from influential films and videos: Anthony Balch’s black & white ode to military masturbation Towers Open Fire, and The Cut-Ups (1966), including footage of Gysin’s ‘Dream Machine’; Decoder (1984), a German film featuring Burroughs as well as underground musicians Genesis P-Orridge and members of Einstürzende Neubauten; and Thanksgiving Prayer, Van Sant’s political riff with Bill Laswell musical backing that had been previously shown on Saturday Night Live among other places.
The Commissioner of Sewers is available to watch free via FilmOn:
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