Naked Lunch

DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Read Angus Wolfe Murray's film review of Naked Lunch
Naked Lunch

There is something David Cronenberg says in the commentary that strikes you as bizarre. "He would not have become a writer if he had not killed his wife." He's talking about William Burroughs. The incident became known as "the William Tell routine" and Cronenberg recreates it in the film.

The extras are like glimpses between the trees of some exotic fascination. Suddenly, you want an entire documentary on the life and alienation of Bill B, homosexual drug addict and icon of the literary underworld.

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The English producer Jeremy Thomas, fresh from the success of The Last Emperor, admits that the book was unfilmable and yet still found the finance to make it. Cronenberg's script takes liberties. As Burroughs says, "I wouldn't expect to see anything but a tiny fraction (of the novel) on screen."

Cronenberg's Naked Lunch incorporates other stories, incidents from real life, actors playing Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs, being older, was their mentor, as well as Ginsberg's lover for a brief, disasterous period.

"Naked Lunch was written by three people," Cronenberg says, the other two being Jack and Allen, who forced Bill, now living in North Africa and a hopeless junkie, to finish the novel.

For the film, Tangier was created in Toronto, "because of the first Gulf War." It saved a bunch of money. "If I had shot in Tangier, I think I might have incorporated a more documentary style," Cronenberg says.

He was aware, as Burroughs was, that if he had filmed the book in its entirety, "it would have been the mother of all pictures, costing $400million and banned in every country in the world."

At times, Burroughs comes across as a creature of his own invention, wickedly funny in a secretive, ironic way, with that weird and wonderful voice which should have been bottled for posterity.

The interviews with Judy Davis, Peter Weller, Thomas and Barry Miles are too short, which means you are left wanting more, especially from Davis - far better than wanting less and being bored by platitudes.

Cronenberg appears refreshingly normal. And yet take a look at his filmography (Shivers, Rabid, The Dead Zone, The Fly, Crash). Feel afraid?

He comes across on the commentary, in interviews and at the Toronto press conference (1991) as an intelligent, thoughtful man, which is one of the reasons why this DVD is a good thing. Naked Lunch is a unique film, anyway, and Cronenberg's contribution, by way of an audio afterthought, gives it something special.

Also, if you're good, you can hear Burroughs reading from his novel in THAT voice.


Reviewed on: 22 Sep 2004
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Naked Lunch packshot
An addict writer descends into a hallucinatory existence after accidentally killing his wife.
Amazon link

Product Code: OPTD0068

Region: 2

Sound: Dolby Digital

Extras: Commentary from David Cronenberg; Naked Making Lunch featurette; interviews; trailer

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