Dec 25, 2011

The Junky's Christmas (1993)

Directors: Nick Donkin, Melodie McDaniel
Writer: James Grauerholz, based on a story by William S. Burroughs
Producers: Francis Ford Coppola, Francine McDougall
Music: Hal Willner
Cinematography: Simon Higgins, Wyatt Troll
Production Design: Andrew Horne
Island Pictures; 21 min; B&W

William S. Burroughs (narrator)

The film opens with author William S. Burroughs rifling through his bookshelf, finding his own copy of Interzone (in which the original story for the movie is collected) and sitting down by the Christmas tree to read.  This image alone is jarring enough- Burroughs the legendary underground anti-hero at the age of 75 (didn’t he always look 75?) turning into Jimmy Stewart?!?  There is a low-angle shot of his condor-shaped profile looking whimsical standing beside the tree, and right away we are wondering what kind of perverse whole-someness is being provided us?  Has the collusion of mainstream and underground finally gone too far?  Who would imagine that a tale from the Bard of Benzydrine would be presented to the screen by Francis Ford Coppola?

Once the grandfatherly Burroughs settles down into his easy chair, and his crystalline talons turn the hard pages, we dissolve from this natural world into a twenty-minute claymation short, as he narrates for us the pathetic efforts of a dope fiend trying to score on Christmas Day. What surprises here is not the junkie’s change of heart in the end.  Rather, this celluloid trip is more valuable for documenting a part of the world on December 25th that has seldom been realized for cinema.  In other words, there is no Capra-esque fantasy of George Bailey running down the street, and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas as potato flakes of snow fall to the ground.  Instead this is about the lonely people sleeping on the street that your sedan passes by as you go visit your folks.

Usually the work of Burroughs is a Dadaist science fiction nightmare in which the author can run wild with his ideas and satiric metaphor.  It is rare to see a Burroughs piece (and admittedly a short one) in which the characters are real people, presented matter-of-factly, for us not to judge, nor for him to celebrate, but merely for us to understand.  Although we may not think that the people scoring crack outside my office are human beings underneath, but that matter is easily forgotten when we have to clean all the pipes and prophylactics off of the back step.  In other words, The Junky's Christmas is presenting an ugly world that, surprisingly, has its own moral code.

(adapted from a review originally presented in ESR #4)

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