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CUT-UP SLOW-DOWN SPEED-UP RUN-BACKWARDS: Slicing and Dicing into The
Word and Image Bank with Andre Perkowski ...
Your William S.Burroughs adaptation Nova Express: Can you tell us in a few words what it is about (if
that's at all possible)?
Nova Express is my loftily pretentious process, an eternal labor of
largely lethargic love and scrupulous cut-up care churning and spurting
images all over the fucking walls. It is an arch indoctrination film and
digital spitball aimed at the control machine. In the beginning was
the word and it was good: the novel shot electric bolts through my brain
and possessed me from the second I picked up the neon green Grove reprint
and got sucked into the whirling language cyclone of Burroughs' monstrous,
epic word hoard. The cut-up trilogy and offshoot
endeavors/films/recordings/manifestos consumed me
on-and-off-and-over-and-over-again for the past 15 years or so, in between
other films and fumbling pulp features I'd wander back into the wild space
of WSB's world and chip away further at this stumbling homunculus collage
feature I appeared to be making despite writing a script for it I never
got around to actually shooting. It'd have been a pretty feeble film I'd
still be trying to find the backing for if I stuck to that script, so I'm
glad I just began the damn thing instead so there's some extremely itchy
material to watch. Some days I wonder if it'll ever be finished, or if
it's intended to be finished.
What's it about? Boy, there's a tough one. Ostensibly it's about Inspector
Lee and the Nova Police battling the Nova Mob, it's about addiction to
drugs/money/power/sex, it's about handy household tips on how you too can
join the metaphorical fight.
Why William S.Burroughs, what
do you find inspiring about him?
Besides being one of the towering, charmingly demented genius-types of
the 20th century with a singular nasal snarling monotone that chews it's
way through right to today, tomorrow, and whenever anybody decides
arbitrarily when such things are relevant? His work is incredible, pulses
with rancid swampy life through fungus-encrusted vestigial gills of
iridescent pink flesh! Or something along those lines, I've been immersed
in the man's potent bile-y brew of word and image electronic vaudeville
for so long it's standard operating procedure and would advise anyone
interested in such pulses and possessing of one go listen to the man.
On a visual level, Nova
Express consists mostly of film- and TV-footage from creatively
edited together. What made you take the patchwork approach to adapt the
source material, and to what extent do you think it follows Burroughs'
intentions, to what extent your own vision?
All the words
barring some by Brion Gysin, some fragments of industrial film
soundtracks, and WSB's original radio cut-up tape experiments are by
Burroughs himself -- I wanted to keep it a sickeningly silky strict puree
of pure Burroughs language for an extended period of time, with every
extant scrap of his voice reading from the novel and associated texts
whenever possible... really digging into all that meat and no potatoes of
his singular, sexy 60s output. The visuals are my interpretation,
trying to find to find a video parallel to his playing with found texts
like pulp novels and medical journals. Thus the trashy SF and educational
films cutting in and out, using Brion Gysin's cut-up technique to randomly
find interesting juxtapositions and then massaging the results over and
over again. Undifferentiated cut-ups can get a bit boring, but I'd be open
to any interesting bits of random chance that would somehow sync just the
right image to the soundtrack. Burroughs would cut-up a page and sometimes
just extract a sentence, and it was quite similar editing the film.
basic question: Where did you find all the footage, and would you like
to talk about some of the movies, TV-shows, ads etc that you worked into
The Prelinger Archives are the mother lode for this sort of thing, so a
big thank you to Rick Prelinger for his incredible collection of ephemeral
films. I've always been fascinated by those sorts of shorts, and it was
really fun digging into really obscure shorts I hadn't seen before and
cracking up at the charming goofiness of them... shrieking with delight at
seemingly heaven sent images, marveling at how perfectly they slotted into
sequences I didn't have pictures for yet. There's also quite a lot of
material from Soviet science fiction films, stuff like First Spaceship on
Venus and the wonderfully odd Nebo Zovyot (which was cannibalized to make
Battle Beyond the Sun) as their incredible visuals and strange color
palettes seemed ideally suited... plus they are public domain! There's a
lot of PD features shredded and sampled, lots of creaky SF and gangster
films. Then there's a bunch of my own material, weird video experiments...
collage films projected on top of each other, randomly spliced together
16mm dug out of the trash, junk sculptures assembled from broken and
reassembled toys... just good, wholesome family entertainment.
Over the years, you have made quite a few
patchwork movies, including two silent Batman-shorts.
What do you find fascinating about this kind of filmmaking?
difficult to pinpoint what first drew me to this sort of style or why,
so let's just rattle off some names you folks should check out for
yourself and see if the answer becomes clearer:
Kevin Rafferty's The Atomic Cafe was probably the first film in this style
that I saw as a teenager, and it was immediately hypnotic, arresting, and
deeply influential. I guess my love for cut and paste/dubbed movie-making
began first from a comedy angle, with Rafferty's film joining Woody
Allen's What's Up Tiger Lily, The Firesign Theatre's Hot
Shorts, and J-Men
Forever as some of my favorites. Then I got into the more experimental
side of things after exploring the work of underground filmmakers like
Bruce Conner, Ken Jacobs, Jack Smith, and Cary Loren... plus current
practitioners in this arcane alchemy like Negativland and Craig Baldwin.
Jean-Luc Godard's later work, of course -- I'd watch his Historie(s) Du
Cinema over and over again until I almost made a bit of sense of them, and
that was bound to have a strange effect on my brain. The cost of film
being what it is, I'm often stuck waiting to pay lab bills or sobbing
hysterically finding out labs like Black and White Film Factory have
"recycled" or trashed huge chunks of my work, so to feed the
filthy film addiction I'd slice up unfinished work or found material,
deliriously delighted watching what happens when seemingly unrelated
visuals magically sync up to audio.
Express also features quite a few collage paintings by yourself.
Would you like to talk about those for a bit?
I've kept disturbingly extensive collage journals for about 15 years so
far, a strange collection of dozens of bloated books and stacks of artwork
that hum along in the background of my film work... it's all the same
thing, really -- and in this case literally as the collage journals become
the movie. Nova Express
in particular features some pretty out there
artwork, generally churned out completely blasted on psychedelics on a
handful of occasions -- and boy, doesn't it show. I'd get worked up into a
pretty demented state, serially churning out a hundred or so at a time,
with dozens spread out across the floor worked on simultaneously. It's
incredibly entertaining to spritz color around and layer in endless
collage elements culled from old magazines, textbooks, and advertisements.
I then randomly start drawing over them, as layers and layers are added on
until it sort of congeals and looks right. Who knows what that is. This
project seems to have a lot of latitude for experimentation, and I enjoyed
pushing things to the breaking point and back to see what would happen. I
wanted things organic, colorful, sinister, and almost self-generating --
without paying too much conscious attention to the process to see what
would happen if I just let the paintings paint themselves. This is
probably why my paintings are even less commercial than my films, if such
a thing is even possible.
the years, William S.Burroughs body of work has been adapted quite a few
times, mostly by underground filmmakers. Would you care to talk about any
of the other adaptations?
I wish he was adapted quite a few times! I'd love to see more
versions of Naked Lunch, you could make a dozen films out of that book and
not repeat a single sentence. Cronenberg's film was a fun take on the
period Burroughs wrote the book, with some great bits of business but it
had almost nothing to do with the book. Gus Van Sant has threatened
to make the The Wild Boys, I'd love to see that one on the screen and who
would be left sitting in the audience. Apparently Steve Buscemi is going
to do something combining Junky and Queer, and I can see something truly
tasty coming out of a project like that -- there's a funny entry in
Burroughs' journals mentioning Buscemi coming to visit him possibly to
talk about the project -- Burroughs comments on his good "pimp
hands" or somesuch.
Of the films that have been made, The Junky'S Christmas is pretty cute and
should be screened in schools for the edification of our young people.
It's certainly thirty times better than the 35mm version I was barely
involved with at NYU in the 90s -- I wrote a screenplay adapting the story
but thought it was too ego-maniacal to direct it as well, so it was turned
into a horrible piece of anti-drug shit drained of all humor by some bozos
who thought Burroughs' words were "beautiful on paper" but not
nearly as good as adding some weirdass Catholic slant and taking out all
the jokes. I sent Burroughs a copy of it in the hopes he'd get a morbid
chuckle out of the whole disaster and he died a week or so later and felt
incredibly guilty! It doesn't even credit him! No screenplay credit for me
either and I learned an early lesson: direct your own work so you can only
Ah Pook was Here is fairly interesting but way too short. I haven't
seen The Last Words of Dutch Schultz short, and I've heard rumors of
another tax dodge version shot in a warehouse somewhere. Is this true?
Somebody get in touch and let me know because the screenplay is one
helluva piece of writing. The best were the films he made with Antony
Balch, Towers Open Fire is just a gorgeous piece of work and deserves a
lot more mentions from writers who should know better.
Does Burroughs' writing style
in any kind influence your way of making movies, even outside of your
Hell yes, it's impossible to get out
from under El Hombre Invisible's shadow. Those cold, junkie fingers tug at
the lapels of most of my work -- infecting the rhythm of my words with
that odd carny black comedy vision. It's hard to escape his influence, and
once I stumbled on Burroughs and Gysin's cut-ups, I knew I was in for
Stories/books by Burroughs and
contemporaries that are required reading in your eyes?
Burroughs-wise, novices should pick up a copy of Word Virus: The
William S.Burroughs Reader, which represents the scope of his work quite
well and includes a great sampler CD of his readings -- the writing will
make so much more sense once you hear that voice for the first time and
understand his cadences. Or dive right in: obviously Naked Lunch and it's
companion collection Interzone is a good place to start, but Junky
great piece of straight writing if you're a bit scared of talking assholes
and want to sample the waters with a bone-dry dose of Chandlerian pulp.
Those willing to wade through extreme weirdness and have a high tolerance
for difficult writing should definitely go through the cut-up trilogy: The
Soft Machine, Nova Express, The Ticket that Exploded. If it's hard going,
pick up The Third Mind -- a wonderful collection of essays and examples
created with Brion Gysin that should be out again in a spiffy new edition
if you don't feel like paying ridiculous prices. I'm a fan of the later
trilogy, particularly the gorgeous sadness and eternities of The
Western Lands... but my absolute favorite book of his has to be the first volume
of his collected letters, brilliantly assembled by Oliver Harris -- such
an inspiration for writers and artists of any kind, it forms such a
perfect portrait of the man at his most vulnerable, open, and desperately
needing human contact. It's an indispensable book and belongs on
discriminating shelves the world over.
As for his Beat contemporaries, I'm a big fan of Jack Kerouac's Visions of
Cody -- a huge, nostalgic, playful experiment with language digging into
the brain of Neal Cassady. Doctor Sax, written in Burroughs'
bathroom in Mexico City while smoking joint after joint, would make a
helluva movie -- Kerouac thought so too, and wrote a screenplay based on
it. As for Burroughs' eternal reader, Allen Ginsberg's Selected
Interviews, Deliberate Prose, and Journals in general are the best things
he ever did. Never mind Howl, go check those out -- boy, could that guy
Express, you have also recently (as good as) finished your hommage
to bad kung fu flicks, Belly
Full of Anger, a film that seems to come from a completely
different corner, genre-wise. Would you care to put the two films in
relation to one another?
Full of Anger
is a film for teenagers and stoned people written
with Christopher Roy, whereas Nova
is a heartwarming children's
film designed to give a wormy, golden apple glow to select folks and
encourage them to pick up scissors, recordings, editing programs, and play
around in the same saucy slice-up sandbox. And obviously, it's from the
words of a substantially more interesting intellect than our own. I'm no
Walt Whitman and don't have much capacity for containing many multitudes,
but I think I can probably contain a super-8 kung fu movie and an
experimental media virus in separate cinematic cabinets without
substantial risk of cross-contamination. If you think these two projects
come from completely different corners, you should see what else I have up
my rancid sleeves!
Your and your movie's websites, Facebook, whatever else,
and where and when will it be available?
for excerpts from the film.
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?id=1348783559&aid=71715 for an enormous assortment of collage paintings and grimy images from the
Go ahead and friend me if you want to keep up with information on future
screenings and really stupid youtube links.
for more information about the project, and realitystudio.org
to make your life more pleasant and colorful. A big thanks to the
mysterious supervert media empire, Jan Herman, Oliver Harris, James
Grauerholz, Barry Miles, Carl Weissner, and so many other hideously
encouraging fine folks! It's hard to make subterranean films without the
kindness of strangers, you know.
for the interview!