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I don't know what people were smoking when they called this film a misunderstood classic, but I'm assuming it wasn't anything legal. Holy pickle, this is by far one of the most aggravating and annoying films ever made. People who don't "understand" (i.e. like) it usually get that typical speech from people who think they do: "Well, you just don't understand it, it's a brilliant criticism of the writing process." If you want a good criticism of the writing process rent "Adaptation." This movie is just weird for weird's sake and I can't remember the last time a man having sex with his dead wife while being raped from behind by a typewriter with buttocks and a tail was considered a clever statement on the writing process, but maybe I just haven't shot up with enough heroin in my lifetime to "get it." But to be frankly honest I'd rather be raped by a buttock-laden typewriter than have to be forced into "understanding" this repulsive piece of garbage.
Somebody told me to watch this because it would help me understand
people taking drugs. I think I would have to be on drugs to understand
it though, or maybe read the book. Maybe that was there point? Somebody
also told me it was based on a book. Obviuously not the bibel. Well,
anyway, I guess that explains why I didn't understand it.
Anyway, the movie is a comedy with a lot of scenes that remind me of my favoirite old time Walt Disney movies. There are typing talkwriters with flesh volcanoes for mouths and funny green aliens with slimy hoses coming out of their heads and European accents, and a lot of bugs. At least that's what I think.
I wanted to leave after about an hour, but couldn't find my way out of the livingroom. I guess next time I will have to put together an exit strategy before I watch another weird one like this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Naked Lunch starts in New York City in 1953 where Bill Lee (Peter
Weller) works as a bug exterminator, however he is having some
difficulty as someone is taking his bug powder that he uses to kill
them. Bill finds out that his wife Joan (Judy Davis) is taking it &
injecting herself with it, then strangely Bill is contacted by a large
bug type creature that informs Bill he has to kill his wife Joan
because she is an enemy agent. Bill flees New York City & ends up in
Morocco with his insect type writer that he writes his reports on, from
this point on things get even weirder for Bill & us...
This Canadian, British & Japanese co-production was written & directed by David Cronenberg based on the controversial novel of the same name by William S. Burroughs, I am a fan of David Cronenberg & his work in general but I have to say that I think Naked Lunch is his least enjoyable film as far as I am concerned. Cronenberg's films are usually very visual & have deep meaning & are just great but Naked Lunch is a total mess that I personally didn't get & am not sure who it was meant to appeal to. Don't get me wrong films don't have to mean anything, they don't have to have deep life changing messages or be thought provoking but Naked Lunch is an almost unfathomable film. The basic plot as far as I can make out is that some bug exterminator starts getting high on his bug powder & then writes some bizarre book he titles Naked Lunch while having lots of bizarre hallucinations & starts to suffer from severe paranoia & concocts a strange world of his own in which he becomes some sort of spy or agent or something. For me a film has to be enjoyable & entertaining, if it isn't then what the hell is the point in watching it? Naked Lunch was neither enjoyable or entertaining to me so while some may love it & find all sorts of obscure meanings & parallels I thought it was just a meaningless mess with no direction or narrative & at almost two hours long it felt like it went on forever. While watching Naked Lunch I just kept thinking 'what the hell is going on' & once it had finished I was left thinking 'what the hell have I just spent two hours of my life watching', basically I was less than satisfied & left totally cold.
The film is stylish & visually impressive as one would expect from Cronenberg, I can't help but feel that it's no coincidence that the orifice's that the bugs speak out of look like a talking anus. There's nothing in the way of horror or gore really, there are a few bug like creatures & a couple of sex scenes but this is surprisingly tame considering the source material & the director.
The film has polished production values & looks nice enough, Naked Lunch was going to be shot in Tangier in Morocco but because of the war that broke out in Iraq it ended up being shot completely in Toronto in Ontario in Canada. Apparently Peter Weller turned down the lead role in Robocop 3 (1993) to star in this, Ian Holm, Julian Sands & Roy Scheider round off a good cast.
Naked Lunch is a film that I didn't like at all, there just didn't seem to be any point or message or reason for it's existence. As a big Cronenberg fan I can say this is my least favourite of his films that I have seen, over long & meaningless pretty much sums Naked Lunch up for me.
A lot of people have already covered all the bases on why the movie is
good. Now I'd like to express why the 37 dollar price tag is worth it.
Firstly, the finest and most movie enhancing directer commentary ever made. Cronenberg and Weller are entertaining and informative, and they left me wanting to watch the movie again, equipped with a deeper understanding of this classic film. You also get a whole second disk of special features including hundreds of photos from the movie and of Burroughs and friends,The making of the movie, and Naked lunch read by Burroughs himself in all its obscene glory. This DVD is a class act and truly it is how any great movie should be treated.
Criterion also uses the finest in today's technology to restore and transfer the original masters to DVD. They went as far as to consult the director for his approval. The sound is also perfected to crystal clarity.
In conclusion... You aren't getting ripped off for 37 dollars. In fact, you are getting such an amazing deal it's beyond words.
In reaction to the overwhelmingly plastic culture of the 80s, 90s media
started to regurgitate grainy images of "the Beats", fifties
counter-cultural icons that could be easily reduced to a handful of key
works, stylized photographs and design-heavy biographies dropping names
like Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsgberg and of course Burroughs - a man
who's inherited wealth, tragic past and anthropological interest in
obscure cultures made him a hipster, low rent bon vivant and comedy
artist all at once, lampooning Americana whilst somehow representing it
at the same time.
The film "Naked Lunch" is something of a failure. It has some fascinating qualities, such as Ornette Colemans jazz score, and Judy Davis's somewhat crazed depiction of Burroughs wife in the film which creates a story opening that has a real sense of purpose, but then it all goes astray because, essentially, this is a film without a functioning plot.
Sure, the main character has a motivation: after the accidental shooting of his wife, he moves to North Africa, creating screeds of experimental writing under the influence of painkillers and alcohol as an escape, or perhaps a form of therapy. That's characterization though, whats the story actually about? Essentially, this movie is about typewriters, broken typewriters, hallucinatory moments, various confessions of homosexual guilt or reflection, and static, overly smug exchanges between Burroughs screen stand-in and his compatriots that bare witness to a story that goes nowhere.
Matters are made worse by location restrictions, so the crew shoot on sound stages covered with sand and prop work. Not only does the story evaporate, but the sense of place and time is oddly unconvincing also. I almost feel after seeing this movie that it could have served better as a stage play, with a bit of tweaking.
Did I mention Peter Weller is in this film? He must have hoped something as diametrically opposite to his role in Robocop would have helped his career, but his casting just contributes to the list of misplaced decisions that created this picture. After this film made back a fraction of its budget (people like Peter Suschitzky and Howard Shore hardly work for free) Weller disappeared from wide release films for many years.
The least flattering thing to say about Cronenbergs "Naked Lunch", a film that isn't really related to the wild satire and poetry of the famous book, is that it continued to reduce the image of Burroughs to an aesthetic, as if the death, addiction and suffering in his life could just be recycled as part of a conveniently "hip" pop culture style.
Cronenberg and Burroughs themselves are people of considerable talent, for sure, but not here.
It's 1953 NYC. Bill Lee (Peter Weller) is a former drug addict who has
gone straight as an exterminator. He discovers his wife Joan (Judy
Davis) is stealing his insecticide to get high. Bill is arrested by
narcotic cops. They show him a talking bug who tells him that his wife
is an agent of the Interzone Incorporated and she's not even human. He
kills the bug and escape. He's directed to Dr. Benway (Roy Scheider) to
get off the bug powder. He accidentally shoots Joan and kills her but
she doesn't bleed. He falls further and further into a drug-induced
surreal world. He imagines going to Interzone to start writing reports.
This is a movie beyond strange. This is not a movie for following the plot. This is a series of disturbing visuals to feel. It is weirdness without compromise. Peter Weller's stone-faced acting probably is the most daring choice. A drug movie usually has the protagonist going completely manic. I can definitely understand critics who find this movie unwatchable. It is one of the most unique visions ever.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Exterminate all rational thought. That is the conclusion I have come
to." A product of the Beat Poetry generation, writer and drug addict
William S. Burroughs' 1959 Naked Lunch novel's title takes it's name as
described best by the author: "a frozen moment when everyone sees what
is on the end of every fork". The book was notably banned in many
places and deemed unfilmable until Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg
(Videodrome, The Fly) took the project into his own hands in 1991,
adapting from Burroughs' other works as well to tell the story of this
surreally strange science-fiction drama. Combining Howard Shore, known
for his thunderous choir and full orchestra scores and Ornette
Coleman's dizzy saxophone of free jazz together for the film's
astounding score was certainly an audacious choice, as the notes
sporadically swell and sway, seeming to add a hazy atmosphere to the
drug-fueled ambiance of the picture. Peter Suschitzky's queasy
green-and-gray-tinged cinematography only adds to the collision of
varying sensibilities of a sickly uneasiness as well throughout. Did
Cronenberg succeed at filming the unfilmable? Let's take a look.
Peter Weller plays Bill Lee (a pseudonym of Burroughs and the name under which he published his first autobiographical novel Junky), a man of whom wants to write but exterminates insects to pay the bills. Bill sometimes hangs out with his nebbish writer friends, (of which Burroughs' modeled after fellow beat poet friends Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg) Hank (Nicholas Campbell) and Martin (Michael Zelniker), of whom are both sleeping with Joan under Lee's very nose. Lee's wife, Joan, (Judy Davis), becomes addicted to Bill's bug powder dust, as she describes a shoot-up to feel like a "literary high"; a reference to Franz Kafka's 1915 short story 'The Metamorphosis'. He soon joins her in a world of unorthodox hallucinogens, involving meeting the kindly but sinister Dr. Benway (Roy Scheider), walking away with his first dose of the black meat he gives to Bill: a narcotic made from the flesh of the giant aquatic Brazilian centipede. When a party trick game known between Bill and Joan called the William Tell routine involving a liquor glass and a gun go awry, accidentally killing Joan, Bill flees to the Tangiers-like Interzone (Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch in the city Tangiers). Here in this Mediterranean location, he encounters talking insectoid typewriters, double agents, offbeat aesthetes, Mugwumps spouting and oozing from phallic appendages and plots within plots.
Cronenberg's collaboration with the banned work of Burroughs between the realms of fiction and non-fiction allows the film itself to concern that nether region between the real and unreal as well, where the inspired and imaginative impetus for the creative process are not driven by drug-fueled hallucinations but are the product of it instead. With a fragmented touch of film noir realism, random routines and creepy-crawlies galore,'Naked Lunch' is a bizarre plunge into a narcotic delusion echoing that of a bitter cry from the bellows of the Earth. When combining both worlds regarding the exterminated species of the entomologic kingdom along with a few hits of insect powder, the thin line of what is tangible fades into a twisted oblivion, giving us a picture not for everyone but remains a good hit that still manages to shock and stun even today thanks to it's daring director, even with all of the bugs and the drugs.
An exterminator becomes addicted to the substance that he uses to kill
bugs, and accidentally ends up murdering his own wife. This leads to
him becoming involved in a secret government plot in a port town in
North Africa, seemingly orchestrated by giant bugs.
William S. Burroughs is one of those three influential writers known collectively as the Beat Generation (the other two being Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac), and this film and the book its adapted from is one of the reasons why. Partly autobiographical, partly the absurdity of Burroughs imagination, 'Naked Lunch' is an excellent film.
As you watch the film, it's difficult not to be taken aback by its sheer zaniness and surreal nature; however, it's fascinating to find out that, under those layers of fantasy, Burroughs is recounting stories from his own life. Drug addiction; the accidental murder of his wife; the need to escape from the glare of city life these were all things that Burroughs endured himself and subsequently penned down. But in pure Burroughs fashion, the author adds some mutant bugs and a crazy plot to spice it up.
And then you add Cronenberg to the equation, who himself is famed for his outrageous and sometimes ridiculous films. Cronenberg manages to bring Burroughs' vision to life in a very strong way, keeping the film moving at a frenetic pace and never really letting the viewer feel like they finally have a grasp of what is going on. At each turn, the film takes a new, unexpected twist, and we're all the better for it.
But the best thing about the film is Paul Weller. Between typewriter-shaped cockroaches and insane hallucinogenic experiences, Weller somehow instils a level of gravitas. Maybe it's his everyman good looks, or his ability to seemingly move through every scene with a quiet presence, but Weller (as lead character Bill) makes you believe in the world. Through everything that he does, you stay on his side, and that gives this strange film it's emotional core.
This is not Cronenberg's best film, I think, but 'Naked Lunch' definitely ranks up there as one of the better ones. The absurdity of it all had the potential to be off-putting; but bring together the intimacy of Burroughs' writing, the imaginative Cronenberg direction, and Weller's grounded performance, and you have a brilliantly made movie. Watch it.
The scene towards the end of the film when Clark-Nova (after having been tortured) dies in the arms of The Peter Weller character is perhaps the most touching death scene ever brought to the screen. I found myself contemplating the uselessness of life until at least 3:00 am when I was able to finally drop off into an uncomfortable and tormented sleep.
God, I like Cronenberg. I like his commitment. I like his designs. I
like the fact that he deals straight and heavy.
I even like the feel of this movie while at the same time noting that it fails, at least it fails if you consider the value of the book.
The book is one of many that deals with the sliding overlap between one reality and another. I welcome any of these. And this is particularly attractive because of the animate typewriters-become-agent-controllers. These are much more visceral in the film. But the book made much of the scintillating overlap, the typed page that touched the earth from time to time that we would literally hold in our hands to assure us that there was a reality.
Cronenberg has none of this. As with all his films, there is one world, and he invests heavily in making it real. So we see ourselves, the typewriter that takes control, that provides the trance, the words, the enticement toward perversion of several types and its means. Cronenberg's slip into alternative universes is slippery only one way; he won't let us come home. I admire this, because I would rather see passion invested by an artist than compromise for something as trivial as effect. But here, I do miss the effect.
Judy Davis is her usual sublime self. The character (actually two, sortof) is a mess and is never anchored. But she herself is, outside the film. Her character's role is crucial to the thing, a sort of fulcrum around which the real and hallucinogenic revolve. Sex, meaning, holding onto the world. She accomplishes this not through the character, but the solid soul of the actress which shines through. Who else can do this? No one I know.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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