Written by, starring, narrated & co-directed by uber-beatnik William Burroughs, the b/w Tower Open Fire (1963) is an avant garde romp showing random visual snippets to fragmented poetry on the follies of the world, not excluding the folly of making this short film.
It is probably an error that this film is considered a work by Burroughs & would more accurately be a film by Antony Balch attempting to give film-form to Burroughs' written work, including a visual-audio equivalent of Burroughs' "cut ups" in which he mixed texts from different sources to create nonsense with bits of accidental humor. The film also has intimations of not-totally-science-fiction future warfare featuring Bill Burroughs in a gas mask.
Because there is no forward narrative momentum, it's pretty darned dull. At ten minutes length it is just the correct side of tolerable, despite seeming much longer even so. It has to be apreciated (if at all) image by image, like a collection of xerox posters for the geekiest punk rock events, or a public showing of fluxus or neo-dada artists such as do owe a great deal to the beat poets & beat artists.
Alternatively, the viewer can risk admitting it all strongly resembles rank amateurism excusing itself with the label "avant garde."
Think of it as a couple of totally stoned beatniks dicking around at nothing consequential, yet which people nevertheless would be looking at for decades to come, & it can be suprisingly amusing.
I liked The Cut Ups (1966) a lot more than Tower Open Fire though I wouldn't hazard why. Balch once again tries to render visual Burroughs' (how shall I name it) "retardo art" technique of cutting pages of various texts into quarters & putting them back together mixed up. That it's pointless & makes no sense becomes the point & the sense.
We get to hear William Burroughs & Brion Gyson saying "Yes, Hello, Yes, Hello, Yes, Hello" while a very limited number of random b/w images repeat ad nauseum. There's an additional bit of wordage quieter on the soundtrack, likewise on a loop.
In its monotony it functions almost like a mantra. That there are shots of Dyson's "dream machine," the main component of which is an old 78 rpm record player, suggests the mantra quality of the film was intentional, since the dream-machine purportedly induced an altered state of mind while watching it with one's eyes closed.
Would-be or neo-beatniks have never really stopped constructing similar dream machines, & hallucinating dim-bulb myths & profundities about what it can do to or for the mind. So there's a certain dada-istic historical relevance recognizable in this early record of a goofy contraption.
Only an idiot would mistake it for art, & I'm an idiot. The Cut Ups is a work of crackpot genius that will amuse a few & annoy the majority.
Shortest of all at under two minutes is William Buys a Parrot (1963), Balch's first exploitation of his friendship with Burroughs, categorizable as a "documentary" despite that it documents painfully little.
A woman's voice chants wordlessly with considerable musicality in an otherwise silent film showing Burroughs walk down a street, enter a house, & presumedly ponder the purchase of a cockatoo.
That's all that happens. But hey, that's Burroughs doing it so it's cool, right? As I said, I'm an idiot. So yeah, I thought it was cool.
Bill & Tony (1973) is a full color short that begins with Burroughs introducing himself as Tony & Tony introducing himself as William, followed by Burroughs reciting some cool wacky poetry, & it progresses with repetitious variations.
At a little over five minutes it's exactly the right length to hold one's attention as a marvelously absurd few minutes of entertaining nonsense. The promise of "living breathing monstrosities" (dialogue cribbed from the classic horror film Freaks, 1932) is not fulfilled unless Bill & Tony are the alleged monstrosities.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl