Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Naked Truth About Naked Lunch

I’ve always felt I should dig William Burroughs. I mean, the guy is from St. Louis, all kinds of my friends worship him, and he was always cool as hell when he’d appear on TV, in movies, or on records. I met him once, too, and he sounded exactly like himself when he talked, which, for some reason, impressed me greatly at the time.

But, you know, I’ve never read much of his stuff. Just “Junky,” and some excerpts from other, more formidable novels. One thing I know about his writing, though, is that it is in love with language. It may be the kind of love that borders on hate, but ultimately, language is always held to be the highest, most perfect part of life.

So, watching David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” last night, it occurred to me that it was odd how little love for language was in there. Cronenberg loves visuals, of course, and there were plenty of oddball ones in the flick. All those typewriters turning into bugs, and the pure ickiness of the mugwomps, you know. The music was cool, lots of Ornette Coleman sax solos floating in and out of the background. The actors, especially Judy Davis, had some fun with their roles. But, they didn’t get to talk much in those Burroughsian rhythms that make him such a major force of nature.

I hadn’t seen this in about twelve years, so I’m glad I gave it another chance, but ultimately, I’m just not sure “Naked Lunch” works that well as a movie.


Blogger tonypatti said...

I thought the movie could have only been successful by doing it without the fevered rush of beat prose. That stuff all lives best on the page. But what he did succeed in doing was creating a seemingly confusing rush of events and perceptions that match the drug-addled brain. That's hardly ever been done as well, especially since it was done with so much humor.

The thing I love most about Cronenberg's Naked Lunch is he approached it as a comdey! I you watch it without laughing at it the whole absurd Dr. Benway paranoiac thrill ride of conflicting stories and ideas, you might have been taking it too seriously.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Steve Pick said...

Interesting points, Tony. I found some of it funny, and I certainly unerstood the drug-addled brain bit. But, I didn't think the comedy was broad enough. The absurdity seemed doled out, not as big as what I gather Burroughs did in the novel. And the whole William Tell routine thing made for an uncomfortable connection with reality. You're right, though about the prose being best on the page. My point was that Burroughs is probably best understood through words, not images.

6:56 AM  
Blogger tonypatti said...

Best understood through words. Understanding, like the proverbial mileage, may vary! Yes, it wasn't all the way absurd, like you say. The William Tell stuff was very unsettling, too.

You might be surprised if you read the novel. It's really a notebook full of random little collections of thoughts, more than a novel. One thing the movie got right was the multi-leveled views of reality, drug addled or straightened out.

12:08 PM  

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