William Burroughs

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#1
Fascinating story:

In the cut

William Burroughs's radical films are finally on DVD. Tim Cumming hears how they upset audiences - and had to be saved from a skip

Monday August 23, 2004
The Guardian

Genesis P-Orridge is talking about the day he was asked to rescue a series of radical movies made by William Burroughs, artist Brion Gysin and film-maker Anthony Balch from a skip. It was 1980 and P-Orridge was living on the dole in Hackney, east London, fronting art-punk band Throbbing Gristle. "Brion called me from Paris," recalls P-Orridge. "Anthony had died, and all the films they had made in the 1950s and 1960s were about to be destroyed. 'Here's the address,' he said. 'Do what you can to save them. Go and get them, and they're yours. You'll know what to do with them.' "

The address led to the small, cramped office of a film distribution company in Soho. The rent hadn't been paid and the offices were being torn down. It was already late in the afternoon, and P-Orridge's only means of raising money was cashing a housing benefit cheque. "So I got my rent money, a black cab and a slip of paper, and went down to Soho. Sure enough there was an old building and these burly workmen were picking up the cans of 35mm film to throw them into the dumpster. Minutes later they would have been destroyed. I gave them £5 to put them in the cab, and went back to Hackney."

The films on which Burroughs, Gysin and Blach collaborated - among them The Cut Ups and Towers Open Fire - have been cult objects for years. The Cut Ups was first shown in the mid-1960s at the Cinephone on Oxford Street, where the manager begged for a change of programme on account of the keys, coats, bags, underwear, and other strange items left behind by the disorientated audience. For years they lay in a stack of dusty film cans in Soho, until P-Orridge salvaged them. Once they had been catalogued and processed, he gave the films their first showing for years, in London and Manchester. Since then, snatched scenes from the movies have cropped up in various documentaries, including Klaus Maeck's Commissioner of Sewers, which combines footage from The Cut Ups with interview material and inimitable readings from 1986. For the most part, though, they have been excluded from the cultural record.

"Life is a cut-up," insists Burroughs in Maeck's film. "As soon as you walk down a street your consciousness is being cut by random factors. The cut-up is closer to the facts of human perception than linear narrative." The techniques began when Gysin sliced through several layers of newspaper while cutting a mount in his room at the Beat Hotel in Paris. "I laughed so hard," he recalled later of the chance juxtapositions thrown up by the scalpel, "my neighbours thought I'd flipped." His neighbours included Burroughs. "You've got something big here," he told Gysin excitedly. Indeed, cutting through the word - disrupting the reality tapes, as Burroughs called it - was the most extreme face-lift writing ever got.

Experiments with the new technology of home recording followed, with Gysin, Burroughs and electronics genius Ian Sommerville pioneering the world's earliest examples of sampling and tape manipulation. And with the arrival of film-maker Anthony Balch, who had cut his teeth making TV commercials, film became the logical conclusion for their experiments. When Burroughs produced his script for Towers Open Fire, Balch started filming in Paris and London. The film opens with Burroughs as the voice of control ("white, white, white as far as the eye can see ...") and ends with pages of Egyptian hieroglyphs blown by the wind down a country track. Though not strictly a cut-up movie, the film is full of the chance juxtapositions of the method, and filming for The Cut Ups soon followed, continuing over a period of years in Paris, Tangier, New York and London. Once it was finished, Balch assembled the footage on to four reels and gave them to his editor, instructing her to cut a foot from each reel - just enough time to see an image without absorbing its narrative details - and splice them together sequentially, sight unseen.

"They edited everything mathematically," says P-Orridge of The Cut-Ups. "Regardless of any narrative or linear sense, in order to erase the concept of the author, and so that what they called The Third Mind would kick in and become the driving force of whatever happened. Which to this day is an incredible idea."

The soundtrack comprised Burroughs and Gysin permutating phrases from a Scientology auditing test. The result is by turns hypnotic and disturbing; a kind of undiluted cerebral caustic. The Cut Ups runs counter to our essential conditioning, and provokes strong reactions because of it. "It's unusual to find someone working outside the satisfaction of people's vicarious needs," says P-Orridge. "It's always more of the same, the instant gratuitous pleasure, rather than erasing the ownership of the narrative. That's the big difference. The audience always wants to feel that they have power over the unfolding of the story. As soon as that's blocked, it's like any other craving. You get an aggressive response."

The Cut Ups remains as refreshing and startling as ever - a radical re-visioning that shows us how we view and approach reality is more than a passive, reactive sport, but a continually creative enterprise. P-Orridge has just returned from showing the films to an art-world audience in Basle. "Though we feel we're very sophisticated now, culturally and aesthetically, the impact on this audience was still immense," he says. "They were entranced and completely silent."

"There's a certain mythology that has grown up around the films, and around William and his work," he adds. "People have a great trust in the method and the process, which has become so all-pervading in popular culture and the mass media that it's vital future generations understand and are aware of the source material, and the original thinking behind what may now be mundane."

---------------
· Thee Films, a collection of Burroughs' movies, and Commissioner of Sewers are available from Screenedge.com.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/features/story/0,,1288678,00.html

A direct link:

http://screenedge.com/shop/search.asp?search=Title_Artist&search=Keywords&var=burroughs

His IMDB entry (with links to the various films):

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0123221/

General Burroughs links:

http://www.hyperreal.org/wsb/

http://www.levity.com/corduroy/burroughs.htm

http://www.popsubculture.com/pop/bio_project/william_s_burroughs.html

http://www.thei.aust.com/bill/burroughs.html
 

James_H

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#5
I think Burroughs' work is most def cut-upabble. As proof for this, I read one half of the naked lunch, and gave up or petered out on it.
A few years later I started from halfway through, read from thereonin and then started at the beginning again. It made a hell of a lot of sense.
Sometimes difficult to read but i think he goes into the dark heart of the huiman mind much further than any other writer.

Does anyone have a complete list of the musicians he's collaborated with? Off the top of my head there's:

Kurt Cobain
Laurie Anderson
the Disposable heroes of Hiphoprisy
Tom Waits
Sonic Youth (?)
Patti Smith (?)

Also apparently Ian Curtis out of Joy division was on tour with a package including burroughs and gysin. Curtis approached his great hero burroughs, who told him to "fuck off, you wet little punk" or similar. Which presumably got him even more depressed.
 

Anafranil

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#6
H_James said:
I think Burroughs' work is most def cut-upabble. As proof for this, I read one half of the naked lunch, and gave up or petered out on it.
A few years later I started from halfway through, read from thereonin and then started at the beginning again. It made a hell of a lot of sense.
Sometimes difficult to read but i think he goes into the dark heart of the huiman mind much further than any other writer.

Does anyone have a complete list of the musicians he's collaborated with? Off the top of my head there's:

Kurt Cobain
Laurie Anderson
the Disposable heroes of Hiphoprisy
Tom Waits
Sonic Youth (?)
Patti Smith (?)

Also apparently Ian Curtis out of Joy division was on tour with a package including burroughs and gysin. Curtis approached his great hero burroughs, who told him to "fuck off, you wet little punk" or similar. Which presumably got him even more depressed.

Urban myth?

Burroughs was well known for his impeccable manners, also if Burroughs could tolerate the company of careeist pop baboons like Bono & Bowie, then Ian Curtis wouldn't cause to much angst :lol:
 

OneWingedBird

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#7
He had a rather odd and brief cameo appearance in the movie Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.

IIRC (and it's a long time since i've seen it) he's in a street scene near the begining, and inexplicably turns towards the camera to say 'arse'...
 

Timble2

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#8
He did something with R.E.M. "Star Me Kitten" on the Songs in the Key of X: Music From And Inspired By The X-Files album.
 

GNC

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#9
BlackRiverFalls said:
He had a rather odd and brief cameo appearance in the movie Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.

IIRC (and it's a long time since i've seen it) he's in a street scene near the begining, and inexplicably turns towards the camera to say 'arse'...
Was he a film critic too?
 

James_H

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#12
He has a wonderful voice - even when his prose gets a bit bland or samey, hearing it read out really brings it alive.
 

Kingsize Wombat

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#14
William Burroughs on…Led Zeppelin!

When I was first asked to write an article on the Led Zeppelin group, to be based on attending a concert and talking with Jimmy Page, I was not sure I could do it, not being sufficiently knowledgeable about music to attempt anything in the way of musical criticism or even evaluation. I decided simply to attend the concert and talk with Jimmy Page and let the article develop. If you consider any set of data without a preconceived viewpoint, then a viewpoint will emerge from the data.

We started talking over a cup of tea and found we have friends in common: the real estate agent who negotiated Jimmy Page’s purchase of the Aleister Crowley house on Loch Ness; John Michel, the flying saucer and pyramid expert; Donald Camel, who worked on ‘Performance’; Kenneth Anger, and the Jaggers, Mick and Chris. The subject of magic came up in connection with Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Anger’s film ‘Lucifer Rising’, for which Jimmy Page did the sound track.

https://arthurmag.com/2007/12/05/willima-burroughs-onled-zeppelin/
 

James_H

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#17
I increasingly feel that Burrough's 'language is a virus from outer space' concept prefigures Dawkins' idea of the meme.

***

Here's a long read about the relationship between Burroughs and Ballard.
 
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#19
Having not really thought about the band for a very long while this is the second time today that I've been reminded of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. They only made a couple of albums - the second of which was a collaboration with Burroughs; I can't say that I'm a huge fan of the latter, but I do quite like the album.


(The horn loop at the beginning was my ringtone for a while.)
 
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