OVERHEARD at The Murciélago Theatre of Late Night Bizarreness :
Caffeinated verbal riffage and mangled metaphors from that weirdo in the back row at the midnight show.
I first saw Naked Lunch when I was 15 years old. I had never read the original book, hadn’t even touched a cigarette in my short and uneventful life. And much like Nelson Muntz mused after watching the film in an episode of The Simpsons,
I, too, thought, rather flippantly, “there are two things very wrong with that title.”
Years later, through the many empty bottles of scotch raucously smashed on my street of youthful rebellion, many thousands of philosophically smoked cigarettes and a joint rolling talent prodigiously practiced yet scandalously under-developed, I finally felt adequately qualified to revisit the musings of Old Bill Lee again.
Being of the belief that, while millions may have bought Naked Lunch, the book, only two people in the entire world have actually finished reading it. (If you believe the urban legend, even William Burroughs didn’t read it.)
We can all agree, that while the book looks cool on the shelf, between Steppenwolf and a half eaten bar of oily Moroccan Mars Bar, the text itself is in dire need of good rogering by a sub-editor, perhaps more than a smidge of plot and maybe a couple of fun musical numbers.
Carnivorous Canuck and video-nasty auteur David Cronenberg, in tackling Naked Lunch, the film, has tried to at least solve half the problem, using the guy who played Robocop.
Frakensteining a somewhat linear narrative using details from Burroughs’ early life, including veiled, but healthy cameos from Kerouac and Ginsberg, as well as the infamous William Tell-like killing of wife Joan, Cronenberg jury-rigs the film’s aesthetic with some of the pharmaceutical phantasmagoria that defined Burroughs and his literary alter-ego, exterminator-at-large Bill Lee’s unrequited search, through the haze of drug addiction and sexual uncertainty for a foothold to his writing talent.
Infused with the book’s most iconic devices, Dr Benway, Interzone, Mugwup and its Jism, Cronenberg regurgitates up a half masticated metaphysical spy story plot with a needle in its arm into the grimy bowl of a North African public convenience. Its dirty, its paranoid, its got freaky dry humping sex and typewriters with talking assholes, whose dodgy animatronics look more humourous than horrific in this CGI day and age. It’s all a lot of fun, until someone gets a bullet in the head (again) and the entire North African seaboard are all terribly offended by cheap stereotypes. The sign on the elegantly crafted door says “Go to Ibiza, you depraved infidels”.
Peter Weller, Robocop to you and I, excels in the itchy skin of Burroughs/Lee, getting the voice and mannerisms down pat, without going too far off the edge of caricature canyon. As for the supporting cast, watching their performances, you could half imagine them off duty around the craft service table, late in the day, slapping each other on the back, saying things like “can you believe this shit?” and “can you believe we’re getting paid for this stuff?” and “I hear Cronenberg’s buying after work”.
Roy Schneider, however, filling out the all too brief appearances as the infamous Dr Benway, is under-utilised and unsure of himself, as he retreats back to his trailer, quietly muttering to himself: I’m going to need a better agent.
If you’re looking for answers here, probably best you move along swiftly, but if you like typewriters, noisy Ornette Coleman music and stuff that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, then Naked Lunch is on you.