Tuesday, February 15, 2011

DVD review: A Man Within, featuring William S. Burroughs, Patti Smith, Steve Buscemi and more (with trailer video)

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 2:46 PM

williamburroughs

During a time when sexual and artistic expression were highly frowned upon, William S. Burroughs — a controversial figure to say the least — challenged society to question itself and its motives. As one of the leading writers of the Beat Generation, Burroughs had a significant influence on art, music and the literary world. In Yony Leyser’s interesting documentary, A Man Within (Oscilloscope Laboratories, $29.99), significant details of his life are revealed.

As a forewarning for those who are put off by material that is dark, grotesque and sexually explicit: This isn't the movie for you.

click to enlarge William_S._Burroughs

Documentary films serve as instruments for remembering historical figures, and it was absolutely necessary for one to be made about Burroughs — a man who was at once so open to the world, yet also seemed to hold so much back. Burroughs arrived on the scene at a time when nearly every aspect of American culture was censored or reserved. An open homosexual when it was extremely frowned upon in the U.S., the author inspired many musicians and artists by refusing to identify within the norms of society.

Burroughs pushed the envelope his whole life, and most of his work was met with hostility and criticism. He was ahead of his time, and by talking with the people who knew him best, Director Yony Leyser is able to revisit the era of the 1950s and '60s and explore Burroughs' writings and ideas, getting to the root of what drove him. A Man Within provides an uncensored look at his work, the likes of which would have been impossible when Burroughs was at the height of his powers.

Home movies included as one of the special features on this disc show Burroughs tending to his cats and conversing with friends while listening to Patti Smith play music. They provide the viewer with a more personal look into Burroughs' life, while he’s in the comfort of his own home. Also included in the DVD is an insightful Q&A with director Yony Leyser, as well as analysis and commentary on Burroughs' most famous work, the highly controversial Naked Lunch.

The ideas and works of William S. Burroughs have played a vital role in influencing the more open-minded, less conformity-based ideology that is very much a part of today’s culture in the United States. In Leyser’s documentary, we see how this change transpired and what was going through Burroughs' mind as he challenged the social norms.

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