Burroughs: The Movie opens with a clip from Saturday Night Live. The actress/ model Lauren Hutton introduces William S. Burroughs, proclaiming him the greatest living American writer, in her view. That last qualifier had to be included so that it would not look like a hoax, SNL's music director Hal Willner told me last night at the stellar revival of the documentary at the New York Film Festival, 31 years after its premiere screening at this prestigious festival. Its subject, the iconic Burroughs, and director, Howard Brookner, a young filmmaker who died of AIDS in 1989 at age 35, are now long gone, but vivid in the memory of Jim Jarmusch and Tom DiCillo, despite the drugs they took in the making of the film. Speaking of Burroughs' subversive behavior, his antics with guns, everyone lauded the work of literary executor James Grauerholz in keeping Burroughs in line, even moving him to Lawrence, Kansas.
The movie, thought lost, is making its comeback through the efforts of Howard Brookner's nephew, filmmaker Aaron Brookner. Set for a DVD release with Criterion/Janus, the film will have a run at the Anthology Film Archives. In his search for a print of the 1981 feature, Brookner discovered outtakes, and other footage of that time in a back-room of the Bunker, the windowless former YMCA in the Bowery where Burroughs took residence in the 1970's when he returned to New York after decades living in London, Paris, and Tangier.
Among his uncle's footage, Brookner discovered a documentary of Robert Wilson, and so much more including the 1978 Nova Convention, an art-world celebration of Burroughs' and Brion Gysin's "third mind" experiments in the East Village featuring Frank Zappa and Patti Smith. At last night's NYFF screening, Brookner showed some footage of Burroughs at the Chelsea Hotel, an essential glimpse of old New York.
Lauren Hutton was also present last night. When asked what she thought about the SNL clip so many years later, she recounted her indignation at having to qualify her intro, and the pleasure of seeing herself with a lot of hair.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.