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