On the occasion of what would have been William Burroughs’ 100th birthday, we present a selection of movies about one of the 20th century’s greatest authors.
Need examples of William Burroughs’ lasting cultural influence? Look no further than the Fandor library; we have a handful of films devoted to the storied literary figure—great viewing for both the serious Burroughs fan as well as the uninitiated curious about the inimitable iconoclast’s life and work. Consider this modest tribute a tip of the hat to a truly original individual whose impact on the cultural discourse continues unabated.
1. William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (2010) directed by Yony Leyser
“What emerges in William S. Burroughs: A Man Within is a character who could write in outlandish graphic detail about then-forbidden—and, at times, science-fictional—sexuality in his novels of the 1950s and ’60s, but who was squeamish talking about it in the flesh. This was a Burroughs who was generous in his affections for friends and acolytes, but whose avuncular veneer covered up a haunting loneliness.” – Steve Dollar, The Wall Street Journal
2. The Beat Hotel (2012) directed by Alan Govenar
“A real sense of the joyous energy of the time emerges, bristling with creativity, never more so than when seemingly the entire hotel helped Burroughs type up and piece together his manuscript for Naked Lunch in time to send it to a publisher, formerly known primarily for pornography.” – David Noh, Film Journal International
3. Commissioner of Sewers (1991) directed by Klaus Maeck
“In William S. Burroughs: Commissioner of Sewers, an adoring tribute directed by German documentary filmmaker Klaus Maeck, we see Burroughs, scion of a manufacturing fortune, in several media guises: novelist, filmmaker, social commentator, artist, and would-be politician, who confesses to once toying with the idea of running for commissioner of sewers in his native St. Louis. He may dance dangerously close to self-parody on occasion, but Burroughs’ self is unlike any other.” – Terry Catchpole, Entertainment Weekly
4. Words of Advice (2007) directed by Lars Movin and Steen Møller Rasmussen
” With his deadpan demeanor and a curmudgeonly voice that brought unexpected resonance to his surreal and sarcastically humorous writing, Burroughs was a natural performer that delighted both literary snobs and youthful punk culture devotees…For those who are well versed in Burroughs’ life and writing, the film offers a rich enhancement to his remarkable canon – especially the Copenhagen footage, which has never been released before.” – Phil Hall, Film Threat
5. Destroy All Rational Thought (2006) directed by Joe Ambrose, Frank Rynne, and Terry Wilson
“The great Beat Generation experiments took place in Tangier, the Moroccan city where William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and the Moroccan painter Hamri taught Jack Kerouac, Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg how to live outside the law. This documentary features one of the last interviews with Burroughs and previously unseen vintage footage of him in his prime during the 50s and early 60s.” – MVD Visual