new-york

“Burroughs,” directed by Howard Brookner

New York Film Festival

For the most part Burroughs, Howard Brookner’s documentary about writer William S. Burroughs, doesn’t stray far from time-tested techniques of documentaries. True, there’s the darkly hilarious sequence in which Burroughs, dressed up as Dr. Benway, his character from Naked Lunch, performs an operation with a plumber’s helper, assisted by Jackie Curtis as a nurse. (The operation is unsuccessful—the patient spurts blood everywhere.) But otherwise, as in most other documentaries on cultural figures, we follow Burroughs through a wide range of activities, both public and private—readings, dinners with friends, a visit to his childhood home in St. Louis (where he meets his brother, Mortimer, who explains that he couldn’t finish reading Naked Lunch: “It just sort of disgusts me.”). Distinguished friends—Terry Southern, Allen Ginsberg—are called on to reminisce about the old days with Burroughs,

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