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DVD Review: Words Of Advice: William S. Burroughs On The Road

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Words Of Advice is a fascinating mix of material chronicling the later years of writer William S. Burroughs. The catalyst for the film was the discovery of some previously unknown footage documenting a reading Burroughs did in Copenhagen in 1983. Filmmakers Lars Movin and Steen Moller Rasmussen then added interviews and other footage to tell the story. What emerges is a compelling portrait of a man who lived life on his own terms, all the way to the end.

The film begins outside of the house Burroughs shared with longtime companion James Grauerholz in Lawrence, Kansas. This little red home certainly does not look like the domicile of such a celebrated literary outlaw. It is about as bucolic a setting as one could imagine. This was probably part of its perverse charm for Burroughs, who had lived all over the world.

We are then taken to Copenhagen, and the reading. Only excerpts are shown; the full half-hour appearance is in the extras section. But what we do see is vintage Burroughs. His vocal modulations were one of a kind, and just listening to him read his work is mesmerizing. He was there specifically to promote the just-published Cities Of The Red Night, part two of what has become known as The Last Trilogy. The accompanying titles are The Place Of Dead Roads (1981) and The Western Lands (1987).

The bulk of Words Of Advice consists of recent interviews with friends and scholars. In addition to Grauerholz, there are recollections from John Giorno, Hal Willner, Jennie Skerl, Ann Douglas and others.

John Giorno takes us inside "The Bunker," which was Burroughs' New York City residence from the mid-'70s on. This former YMCA room seems perfect for the author. The film includes some tantalizing home movies of parties held there, featuring guests such as Steve Buscemi and Patti Smith milling about.

Speaking of home movies, Wayne Propst has some great stuff of Burroughs' legendary weapons collection. Propst was a Kansas friend, and shows some of the writer's cannons, flame-throwers, and knives. The knife Kurt Cobain gave him is outstanding, a dangerously beautiful weapon.

The DVD extras include the aforementioned full reading in Copenhagen, plus a separate interview with Ann Douglas and two short tribute films titled "One Shot I" and "II."

Words Of Advice is a solid overview of the last 20 years of William Burroughs' life, and as such is recommended.

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