Crossing the Line – Naked LunchPosted: June 5, 2008
Coming in all the way from the Left Coast over the Mojo wire, Flannel Pixie steps in as our girl guest contributor for the week! “Naked Lunch” (1991) was the film no one ever thought would, could, or should be made. Our Canadian friend, director David Cronenberg, laughed in their faces until maple syrup gushed out of his nostrils and made it anyway.
Tagline: Exterminate all rational thought.
Interesting Fact: The shooting of the author’s wife is not a fictional incident. William S. Burroughs did indeed accidentally shoot his wife Joan in the head in 1951 in Mexico in a “William Tell” stunt that went disastrously wrong. Mexican law at the time meant that Burroughs only served 13 days in prison for killing his wife.
Objectionable material: Sex, homo-erotic overtones and undertones, cross-dressing, pseudo-nudity, murder, talking butthole typewriters, humping ass typewriters, vampire monster Swiss men, copious amounts of drug use, dusky skinned foreigners, dying insects, alien creatures that jizz out of their heads, crazy stuff oh man you have no idea
Disturbing Quote: “Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his ass to talk?”
Flannel_Pixie: If talking buttholes, shooting up insect repellant, and killing your wife via attempting to shoot an apple off her head is your shtick, than you’ll love “Naked Lunch”! I personally loved it. It attempted to make sense out of William S. Burroughs’s schizophrenic, drug addled, paranoid and very homo-erotic book Naked Lunch which was originally published in 1959 by Olympia Press. The Book Naked Lunch is one long non-nonsensical hallucination that Burroughs wrote by using his cut-up method where he writes a story and then cuts it up and re-arranges it while on H and Morphine. He wrote Naked Lunch while in Tangier during his “the government is out to get me” phase and abandoned it numerous times. It wasn’t until Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac visited Burroughs’s apartment to find thousands of sheets of paper scattered around the room and chicken scratch written all over the walls that it became an actual book. Ginsburg and Kerouac spent months compiling and trying to make sense out of the genius of Burroughs’s writings while Burroughs miraculously disappeared for 3 months. Many people argue that the reason the book makes very little sense is because it was not organized by the man himself. The plot of the book Naked Lunch follows the adventures of William Lee an agent who is “fleeing the police in search of drugs and his next fix.” He meets various and sundry characters along the way, there are orgies in a mythical place called Interzone and if I read correctly, someone’s testicles get eaten.
Now for the movie:
The movie was more of an adaptation of Burroughs’s life with parts from his book embedded in the mix and directed by David Cronenberg in 1991. In the movie William Lee is an exterminator who discovers his wife fucking Jack Kerouac and shooting up insect repellant. He then shoots his wife by performing a William tell routine and escapes to Interzone where he is haunted by his wife and by my personal favorite part of the movie, the talking ass-hole. Cronenberg beautifully captures the colorful haze that is Naked Lunch and adds astounding visuals to the world of Burroughs’s life. My favorite visual is none other than the talking butthole. The talking butthole is really Burroughs’s type writer that turns into a cockroach with a gigantic red and pink ass-hole and says really mean things to him. To calm this ass-hole down, Burroughs rubs insect repellant on talking butthole or as I like to call him “TB’s” lips. If only my butthole/typewriter could talk! This movie is disturbing in the delicious way and if you are a fan of Burroughs you will be a fan of this movie, it is weird, has a talking butt-hole and makes you feel like you are on heroin. All in all it is a win-win situation.
PsychoLarry: “Naked Lunch” is a film that makes you feel like you’re on drugs when you’re stone cold sober. It’s as simple as that. I couldn’t say when exactly this realization occurs, but I could venture a few guesses. Perhaps it is when the cockroach the size of a terrier crawls out of the box and begins bathing in insecticide while talking out of the asshole on its back. Maybe it’s when the new typewriter turns into a white alien head and leaks a white fluid from its head as the main character types and drinks the fluid from a coffee cup. Could it be when the Swiss man turns into a vampiric blob creature and eats the effeminate Middle Eastern boy? Or is it simply the image of Roy Schneider from Jaws and Seaquest DSV wearing a pair of fake breasts and smoking a cigar as people suck from suspended alien head dongs? Again, I couldn’t tell you for sure, but one way or another you’re in for a trip.
There is a lot of debate about the fact that this book doesn’t really follow what little plot there is in the book Naked Lunch. I don’t give a good goddamn. The film captures not only every major theme and style from the book, but the visceral experience of being Bill Burroughs living in Tunisia and scrawling out the book on an empty stomach and a vein full of cheap uncut smack. It’s a fun movie, it’s completely bizarre, it makes you think well beyond watching it, and it is exactly what a film version of Naked Lunch should be. Hell, if you get nothing else from it, you can at least spend the next few weeks amusing yourself by asking your friends to rub some of that powder on your lips.
MBRFT: Thanks to some controversial back-room negotiations at “Crossing the Line,” Screaming Girl was able to bring in a designated hitter this week and take a day off (even though technically she took one off already when she didn’t do a column for “Cannibal Holocaust”). As a result, we are reviewing a film that I saw three years ago and my memory of which is about as fresh as a poo tub. I’ll try anyway since MBRFT doesn’t get any days off. Oh and welcome Flannel Pixie.
So, how the hell did David Cronenberg manage to make “Naked Lunch” into a movie? He didn’t. The film is loosely assembled from Burroughs’ surreal drug-fueled novel and moments from his surreal drug-fueled actual life and is glued together with surreal drug-fueled scenes of Cronenberg’s own creation. The character of Burroughs (not to be confused with the real Burroughs) is writing a novel within a movie that’s based on the novel that he wrote in real life. It becomes one big meta-clusterfuck that after three years in my head is a gooey mess. Cronenberg has an incredible knack for violating the human body on-screen in perverse ways and we get plenty of that. There are a lot of fascinating make-up effects that are probably the only way to visually approach the imagery of the novel. Wisely, he doesn’t try to translate the infamous “Talking Asshole” monologue to the screen and instead allows Robocop to deliver it in his deadpan monotone style, a good example of the director using restraint and letting Burroughs’ brilliance breathe through.
The biggest accomplishment of the film is probably that it exists at all. The novel seemed un-adaptable in any medium and somehow Cronenberg managed to film it with a lot of the grotesque imagery and scathing satire intact. And on top of that, it’s really entertaining. I admit, with a Canadian horror director at the helm, the film often seems to drift into a gross-out sci-fi genre film but it seems appropriate given the nature of the source material, especially since he worked within a genre known for its tongue-in-cheek dark humor. Pasolini adapted another impossible book to the screen (“Salo”), but his literal transcription went way over-the-top. Cronenberg found a way to do the impossible by merging Burroughs’ style with his own. It’s too bad Screaming Girl found a way to avoid the film altogether (she must be sleeping with one of the reviewers).
*Next week we look at what was probably the toughest film we’ve yet had to watch. I dare you to find a movie more disturbing to watch than “Irreversible” internet.