William S. Burroughs: A Man Within

burroughs

Bursting with poetic tributes and never-before-seen footage, and woven through with the gravely voice of the writer himself, William S. Burroughs: A Man Within is a surprisingly moving portrait of an artist whose obliteration of literary and social conventions made him a generational icon. The film’s carefully curated blend of archival footage and on-camera interviews with close friends and collaborators reveal the very-human heart of the grim-humored writer. Burroughs’s well-documented gun fetish is explored as a manifestation of his passion for control, and it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that the issue is presented in personal, not political, terms. A segment on his landmark novel “Queer” dives into the troubled waters of Burroughs’s complicated sexuality, and reinforces his avoidance of labels and societal identification of any kind. The film only briefly dwells on what is known as ‘The William Tell Incident,’ when Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his wife Joan, though its impact on his writing is sadly alluded to. As friends like Patti Smith, Genesis P. Orridge, and John Giorno recount their long relationships with Burroughs, it becomes clear that the writer lived by an indecipherable inner compass that made him at turns charming, alienating, and insightful. Even as the film places Burroughs at the nexus of counterculture cool, it grounds him as a bemused observer of a world he never wanted to be a part of.

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