Opening today at Filmbar Phoenix:
Burroughs: The Movie—William S. Burroughs is my favorite of the Beats, though the work of his I like best is his relatively straightforward early stuff, like Junky (1953). The clarity and velocity of his prose at its best is a marvel, although I doubt it’s ever as good on the page as it is when he reads it aloud, in his metallic Midwestern blare.
This documentary, directed by Howard Brookner, opens with Burroughs on a 1981 episode of Saturday Night Live, introduced by Lauren Hutton. He proceeds to read from Naked Lunch and Nova Express, and get solid laughs. The film then gives us a full but not exhausting chronicle of the author’s often harrowing life, much of it narrated by the man himself, dapper, deadpan and unflappably stoic as ever.
Brookner, who died of complications from AIDS in 1989 at the age of 34 (Burroughs outlived him by nearly a decade), started the film as his NYU senior thesis; Tom DiCillo and Jim Jarmusch were on his crew. He filmed Burroughs for 5 years, and captured some remarkably unguarded footage—Burroughs interacting with his talented, ill-fated son Billy, for instance, or with old cronies like Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr. He also got good talking head stuff from such talkers as Terry Southern and Patti Smith and Brion Gysin and even William’s brother Mortimer Burroughs, who put down Naked Lunch halfway through because he disapproved of the language.
The film’s been around since 1983, but Filmbar is showing a remastered version, in connection with the subject’s centennial. For Beat enthusiasts, it’s a must.
Still in theaters:
Interstellar—Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi saga looks, in its first stretch, more like John Steinbeck than Ray Bradbury or Robert Heinlein. Earth of the future has become a dustbowl, wheat has become extinct, billions of humans have died, and farming is understandably the most respected of all professions. Corn is still abundant, but it’s only a matter of time before it goes too, and when it does humankind is done for.
Former NASA pilot Matthew McConaughey has turned farmer, though he doesn’t really like it. But he gets the chance to go back to work for his now-disreputable former employers, flying a spaceship through an inter-dimensional “wormhole” to another galaxy, at the other end of which three planets, each a possible candidate for human colonization, have been discovered.
What ensues is a tale, complex in the Nolan manner, of space travel, time travel, paradoxes, robots, brave new worlds, rationality versus love, survival weighed against worthiness for survival. In other words, it touches on just about every classic theme in sci-fi, none of them all that new since Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer wrote When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide back in the ‘30s.
But Nolan’s treatment of them is absorbing, tense and urgent, and full of hushed, eerie visual beauties that recall such atmospheric ‘60s and ‘70s sci-fi favorites as Kubrick’s 2001, Tarkovsky’s Solaris or Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running, without seeming imitative. At nearly three hours Instellar is, I suppose, a lot of movie, though I can’t think of any point at which I was bored.
Be forewarned though: despite a cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn and the terrific David Gyasi, this movie's a very heavy dose of Matthew McConaughey—he’s onscreen a lot, and his singsong Texas drawl is heard a lot. If, like me, you’re OK with that, Interstellar may be for you. If not, it’ll be one long space odyssey indeed.