Yony Leyser/USA 2010/87 min
Slightly embarrassed to be labeled as ‘Beatniks” Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg describe the 1950s-60s invasion of their work as a “spiritual revolution”, on a par with feminism in terms of its influence. Their seminal works: On the Road, Naked Lunch and Howl, changed and inspired an entire generation, hungry for cultural revolution and a new way of expressing their political and sociological views. Of course, for Burroughs, coming from a comfortable background and being Harvard educated placed him in a position to be able to articulate his disgust at the American Dream in a way that others of the era couldn’t. This documentary from newbie director Yony Leyser follows a loose format and falls into several sections where interviews with those who worked with and adored him, namely Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth and John Waters, focusing on his homosexuality, drugs, guns and his life from youth to old age.
Linked by some stop-motion shorts consisting of wire frames and utilising some never seen before footage of the man himself and interviews with Ginsberg, Leyser’s film is a sensitive and moving piece offering a glimpse into Burroughs’ world. The interviews gain some real emotion from ex-lovers and the big names who owe so much of their careers to him. There’s a genuine feeling of loss and love for the man who was driven by drugs and produced some of the most violent and sexually perverse work we’ve seen. But what’s great about this film is that it doesn’t attempt to glamorise or idolise the past as so many of us do, especially when it comes to the 50s and 60s. In his slurring, deep voice Burroughs reads his thanksgiving poem: “Thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feeling their notches…” a chilling reminder of the truth of what these artists faced and fought against. It’s admirable that Leyser achieves such an articulate and flowing piece, just as the Beats admonished the American Dream this picture reveals the reality of the Beats in a pacey and enjoyable film.
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