Saturday, August 16, 2014

formative films - naked lunch.

Naked Lunch (1991)

Dir: David Cronenberg

I'm not really sure why I decided to rent naked lunch all those years ago. I had only a passing familiarity with cronenberg's work, knew nothing of william burroughs, and didn't even realize that peter weller had also starred in robocop.

but something about that poster image enticed me, and the film swallowed me completely.

the costume design, the art direction, the creature design, the music - they all combine to form something so surreal, so alien, that's there's genuinely nothing else like it anywhere in cinema. the fact that this was produced by a major studio makes it all even more mind-boggling.

and although cronenberg's film isn't the most faithful adaptation in history, it uses the book as a starting point to explore not only the themes important and inherent to burroughs' work, but the author himself.

included in the film are many (too many, according to burroughs) allusions and direct references to some of the most crucial events of the author's life.

first and foremost amongst them is the shooting death of his common-law wife, joan, who was shot in the head during a drunken game of william tell. her death by his hand started burroughs down a path from which he'd never return, eventually discovering all of the dark realities of who he really was.

burroughs' misadventures in morocco also feature heavily in the film, as do fictionalized portrayals of jack keruoac and allen ginsberg but none, even the accidental murder, feature as heavily as burroughs' notorious drug use.

cronenberg swapped out the real drugs for fictional drugs - bug powder, ground centipede - and this surreal change actually drives home just how damaging the real substances are on the human body. regardless of the specifics, it's still something unsafe and toxic.

and just like burroughs' life, the drugs are pervasive - essential to the plot and used by everyone around him, they're just a part of life. that's when focalized through burroughs' perspective, at least. at one point, half-way through his latest manuscript, burroughs' likeness emerges from a drug-induced haze to meet with his friends, who are afraid that he's falling down the hole of addiction too quickly for their to be any hope of recovery once his writing is done.

any creative has experienced this in some capacity - when the need to live in that creative mindset takes over, it's easy to forget about almost everything else in life. relationships, personal health, responsibility; they all fall by the wayside.

it's these autobiographical details merged with portions of the novel that really elevate this film and make it a unique entity unto itself.

as much as I love this film for its depiction of both the artistic lifestyle and the never-ending drive to create, I also love it for the liberty it takes with the adaptation. too many adaptations from the beginning of cinema up until the present day have focused on nothing but bringing the source material to life exactly as it was written, dedicated to preserving the author's vision.

but naked lunch merely uses the source material as a jumping-off point to explore the themes most important to the author while creating a narrative that is not beholden to the author's original work.

thankfully, this is becoming much more of a trend in the modern television world - say what you will about shows like under the dome, true blood, and game of thrones, but they're taking increasing liberties with the source material to create something that's thematically linked but altogether different in story and characterization.

I think this is incredibly advantageous to film and television creators, as it lets them take a story with established themes and a built-in fanbase and gives them the liberty to explore new themes and new ideas that may not have been in the public (or personal) consciousness when the works were originally created.

I've always felt that books should remain books, that comics should remain comics, and that any other works should remain in the medium for which they were created. but brilliant works like naked lunch have made me rethink the possibilities of adaptations. for too long adaptations have been beholden to not only the original works, but their fanbases as well.

not anymore.

art and creativity are more collaborative than ever and we've finally reached a time when an adaptation can be something so much more than just fan service, more than just a tie-in, more than a desperate cash-grab.

an adaptation can start with one work of art and result in an entirely new work of art that speaks to different people and in different ways than the original artist could have ever anticipated.

and that's exciting.

(buy a copy of criterion's edition of naked lunch.)

(buy a copy of burroughs' original novel.)

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