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William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (2011)

Patti Smith , John Waters , Yony Leyser  |  NR |  DVD
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Patti Smith, John Waters, Iggy Pop, Gus Van Sant, Laurie Anderson
  • Directors: Yony Leyser
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Oscilloscope Laboratories
  • DVD Release Date: February 15, 2011
  • Run Time: 87 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,762 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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Product Description

Exclusive liner notes by Richard Hell and David Byrne.

The documentary William S. Burroughs: A Man Within sheds a lot of light--sometimes fractured light--on the life of the influential yet enigmatic beat poet William S. Burroughs. Director Yony Leyser (interviewed on this disc as one of the many extras) explains how his fascination with Burroughs and his work led to his pursuit of telling the story of Burroughs's life. And what a life it was. Leyser traces Burroughs's upbringing as a scholarly Wasp who fell in with fellow writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in the 1950s in New York, reluctantly becoming part of the beat movement and at the same time impressing and infuriating poetry audiences with his fractious works. In the background, Burroughs was experimenting with his newfound homosexuality (which didn't prevent him from marrying and having children) as well as with every kind of substance, including heroin. A Man Within combines vintage film with current footage of those who knew, worked with, loved, and were influenced or mentored by Burroughs, including former lovers and artists like Patti Smith, John Waters, Jello Biafra, Peter Weller, Steve Buscemi, and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. Burroughs's life is explored and exposed, warts and all, including the infamous incident in 1951 in Mexico in which Burroughs shot and killed his wife Joan Vollmer in an intoxicated game of "William Tell." Burroughs was never prosecuted for the incident, though A Man Within shows how it affected and influenced most of his later writing. Burroughs would go on to achieve acclaim and notoriety with the publication of Junkie and Naked Lunch, both of which are searingly autobiographical.

In his later years, Burroughs would rather cantankerously refuse to be worshipped as a beat poet or early proto-punk, though his devotees here beg to differ. A Man Within may lack some cohesion between all the different segments that make up the life of William Burroughs, but in the end perhaps his life is one best told in snapshots. The DVD features many extras, outtakes, and other rare footage--all indispensable for any fan of American letters in the 20th century. --A.T. Hurley

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DESPERATE SANITY? March 10, 2011
Previously unseen archival footage enhances this probing but affectionate look at William S. Burroughs ("Naked Lunch"), one of the first writers to break the social barriers of queer and drug culture. Burroughs thrashed conservative values and triggered counterculture movements. The soundtrack is by Patti Smith and Sonic Youth. Peter Weller narrates with a bemused detachment. This sharp documentary delves below the surface of a troubled, brilliant and desperately sane author whose influence remains a force.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This documentary definitely focuses on Burrough's sexuality more than any other I've seen, with chat about who he had crushes on & who had crushes on him. And I know plenty who found that objectionable, as who cares if he was gay, he's a true original and icon as a writer. But frankly, that concern is really just a wincing knee-jerk homophobia from the very non-gay audience Burroughs was generally interested in writing for. As in truth, he more than most really WAS more deeply influenced by his sexuality in the formation of the whats & whys of all he wrote.

Being an 'outcast' concerned with 'otherness' (ie, NOT the straight & narrow path) and an interest in 'marginalized' beinghood (even 'alien') & unusual sexual practices IS ALL BURROUGHS...the man within, you might say. And yes, resultant of having no represented place in society growing up, and for him, well into adulthood. Find me one song on the radio that sings of same sex love (no, not 'Lola' by The Kinks), and maybe you can refute that, even today, the stigmas are strong. But he turned stigmatization into an artform. Or you might say, he took his poison & transformed it into the body of work we've now gained from him.

In any case, I've seen a lot of Burroughs, including the Commissioner of Sewers & Towers Open Fire, as well as owning some of his talkie CDs like Dead City Radio, and sure this film borrows plenty of footage from these, which 'real fans' would have already had exposure to. But I take it real fans don't mind seeing clips of those again & actually enjoy it quite a bit. I think this was a very cool documentary with some personal tidbits, both from stories told & home videos shown, which were quite rewarding.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Character Assassination October 21, 2013
Format:Amazon Instant Video
Burroughs would probably have hated this film.
I think it makes him look like a 'lost, 'soft', 'homosexual' 'alien', and not a writer.
I don't know why there was a hugely disproportionate amount of his personal life portrayed over far more important issued such as his WRITING maybe? His work. It's unfortunate this was the most popular film made about the man because it seems to have no grasp on any of his most powerful ideas... it's just a series of anecdotes, and usually poor ones at that.

It's a fetish of the director, and with that, a blinkered adaptation of his life in TOTAL (are you kidding?). I think it says more about the bitter jealousy of the director to drag him down into his own patch after death than about William S. Burroughs, one of the greatest American Writers of the 20th century. He was gay in the same way anyone is straight, but in his own words; "By ye FRUITS we shall know them... not by their disclaimers." (unless Waters took this to mean something entirely different... I think he probably did)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars William Burroughs- A documentary from within November 15, 2012
By Anna Fy
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
A fresh look into the life and work of this controversial personality. The film avoided too much verbosity and sensationalism. Somehow I felt there was a sense of measure, some unspoken rule of a documentary director. Burroughs' connections to musicians, poets and other cultural icons was most telling and informative. Definitely worth watching!
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