Burroughs the Movie – The Criterion Collection #789 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)


Burroughs the Movie” is a fascinating documentary as one of the greatest American writers, William S. Burroughs discusses the good and bad of his life.  Filmmaker Howard Brookner made sure that nothing is left unsaid and confronts Burroughs on his success but also his failures. 

Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Burroughs the Movie – The Criterion Collection #789


DURATION: 90 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, black and white/color, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Monaural, Subtitles: English


RELEASE DATE: December 15, 2015

Directed by Howard Brookner

Produced by Howard Brookner

Executive-Produced: Edouard Douek

Cinematography by Howard Brookner, Richard Camp, Tom DiCillo, Cathy Dorsey, James A. Lebovitz, Larry Shlu, Mike Southon

Edited by Ben Morris, Scott Vickrey


Mortimer Burroughs

William S. Burroughs

Lucien Carr

Jackie Curtis

Allen Ginsberg

John Giorno

James Grauerholz

Brion Gysin

Patti Smith

Terry Southern

Made up of intimate, revelatory footage of the singular author and poet filmed over the course of five years, Howard Brookner’s 1983 documentary about William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch) was for decades mainly the stuff of legend; that changed when Aaron Brookner, the late director’s nephew, discovered a print of it in 2011 and spearheaded a restoration. Now viewers can enjoy the invigorating candidness of Burroughs: The Movie, a one-of-a-kind nonfiction portrait that was brought to life with the help of a remarkable crew of friends, including Jim Jarmusch (Down By Law) and Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion), and that features on-screen appearances by fellow artists of Burroughs’s including Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke, Patti Smith, and Terry Southern.


William S. Burroughs II, the great American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter and spoken word performer and is best known as one of the prominent figures of the Beat Generation is revered for his influence in pop culture and literature.

Best known for his novels, “Junkie” (1953), “Naked Lunch” (1959) and popularized the literary cut-up technique (text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text) for “The Nova Trilogy” (1961-1964).

In 1983, Burroughs was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and in 1984, was ordered the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.

In 1983, filmmaker Howard Brookner (“Arena”, “Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars”, “Bloodhounds of Broadway”) would release his documentary “Burroughs the Movie” to celebrate the work of William S. Burroughs.  The film would be the first and only documentary of the Beat Generation writer and exploring his career with his contemporaries such as Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin, Francis Bacon, Herbert Huncke, Patti Smith and Terry Southern.

The film explores William S. Burroughs, still influential, still working and also focusing on his relationships, such as his working relationship with American poet and Beat Generation leading figure, Allen Ginsberg; his relationship with his assistant (and partner) James Gaureholz and also his relationship or lack of relationship with his son, Billy.

The film also goes into the Beat Generation, his drug addiction and the murder of his common-law wife Joan Vollmer.

And now “Burroughs the Movie” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection.


“Burroughs the Movie – The Criterion Collection #789” is presented in color and black and white (1:33:1 aspect ratio).  The film is well-preserved with no major damage or color issues.  Skin tones look natural and there is a fine layer of grain throughout the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “this new high definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine film scanner from a 35 mm print held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, jitter and flicker.”


As for the lossless audio, “Burroughs the Movie – The Criterion Collection #789”. The film is presented in English monaural 1.0.  Dialogue is clear and no distracting hiss or crackle.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm soundtrack print.  Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD iZotopw RX 4.”.

Subtitles are in English SDH.


“Burroughs the Movie – The Criterion Collection #789” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring an audio commentary with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who served as a sound recordist on “Burroughs: The Movie”.
  • Howard and Uncle Bill – (15:35) Interview with filmmaker Aaron Brookner, director Howard Brookner’s nephew.
  • Howard Brookner – (23:48) Audio excerpts from a July 1985 interview with director Howard Brookner about the making of “Burroughs: The Movie” conducted by William S. burroughs biographer Ted Morgan.
  • Outtakes – (20:23) Featuring five outtakes: New York City, Weapons, Nova Convent-on, Interviews and Travel
  • New York Film Festival, 2014 – (26:47) A Q&A at the premiere of “Burroughs: The Movie” at the New York Film Festival in 2014.
  • Robert E. Fulton III Edit – (23:39) Two years of filming, director Howard Brookner brought inventor and photographer Robert E. Fulton II a trunkful of his William S. Burroughs footage to see if Fulton could re-edit the film.  The result is a 23-minute cut.


“Burroughs the Movie – The Criterion Collection #789” comes with a poster/foldout with the essay “Burroughs, That Proud American Name” by Luc Sante.


Literary genius or audacious writer, William S. Burroughs will be revered as one of greatest and most influential writers of the 20th century.  Others may see him as the most scandalous writers of the 20th century and there are others who refuse to acknowledge Burroughs for his excessive drug use, homosexuality and the murder of his common-law wife.

Excusing the latter, “Burroughs the Movie” is a peek into the life of William S. Burroughs, his accomplishment in his life, his failures in his life but filmmaker Howard Brookner’s film gives those who admire his work a peek into his life.

The film features those who have worked with Burroughs but also those who have had a strong relationship with him.  But also a film that pays respect to Burroughs as a writer, his use of cut-up text and how he inspired many people including musicians.

But the film doesn’t explore William S. Burroughs and his writing oeuvre, the film also explores many facets of his life, good and bad and Burroughs is not afraid to talk about it.  The film shows us a man who has battled with his own personal demons throughout his life.  Growing up addicted to drugs, being homosexual and enjoying nights out with friends, not all is about the fun Burroughs had.  In someway, there is a sense that he is never free from his addiction or past sins.

But there is no denying that he is intelligent, an eloquent speaker and accomplished so much in his life, but the film also exposes the darker side of the life of one of these men who came from the Beat Generation.  Where a lot of documentaries make you feel happy for one’s accomplishments, not “Burroughs the Movie” because while the film shows us his success, the film paints us the true colors of this human being who has lived through tough times and instead of placing him on a pedestal for his accomplishments, the film showcases the humanside of William S. Burroughs.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is very good and there is no sign of discoloration or major damage.  Lossless audio is monaural and features crisp, clear dialogue and there are a number of special features that pays respect to William S. Burroughs’ work but also to filmmaker Howard Brookner posthumously.

Overall, “Burroughs the Movie” is a fascinating documentary as one of the greatest American writers, William S. Burroughs discusses the good and bad of his life.  Filmmaker Howard Brookner made sure that nothing is left unsaid and confronts Burroughs on his success but also his failures.