DVD: William S. Burroughs in the Dreamachine (2015)

July 28, 2015 | By


WilliamSBurroughsInTheDreamachineFilm: Weak

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Standard

Label:  Cult Epics

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  April 14, 2015

Genre:  Documentary

Synopsis: Rather scattershot documentary on William S. Burroughs’ involvement in the creation of the Dreamachine device that reportedly invokes a dream-like state while fully conscious.

Special Features:  Still Photo Gallery (6:18) / Dr. David Woodward Dreamachine Installation at the Freud Museum of Dreams, St. Petersburg, Russia, 2007 (49:36).




John Aes-Nihil’s best-known work is the surreal re-enactment / faux home movies Manson Family Movies (1984), which has its compelling moments and is fairly straightforward in structure, but this current documentary is kind of a mess that might challenge the patience of even experimental film connoisseurs.

Ostensibly a documentary about a device which author William S. Burroughs uses to simulate a dream state while fully awake, what’s really been assembled is a mish-mash of 1.33:1 footage gained from serendipity than good planning.

Aes-Nihil was present at a book signing with Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, and later filmed additional material of Burroughs at home with his dreamachine – a tall spinning cylinder with a bright amber bulb whose 10 kHz flicker supposedly induces dream-like hallucinations – plus a few snatches of poetry readings just prior to the author’s death.

David Woodward, who builds recreations of the dreamachine device originally conceived and designed by Burroughs and Brion Gysin, respectively, appears with Aes-Nihil in the often blurry Burroughs-at-home footage, and in separate vignettes where he reads portions of historic background material on the device’s creation, often in and around a ruined farm.

The whole film is divided into parts that are really sections of what feels like raw footage stitched into prolonged vignettes. There is some salient info on the device, but the whole film rambles and sputters, and would’ve worked in a shorter, tighter edit.

In the at-home footage, Burroughs is badly miked (although what’s discussed is largely banal), and the book signing sequence consists of meandering desaturated / B&W footage, with Aes-Nihil’s camera hovering from a distance as Burroughs signs books for various patrons (including a briefly-seen Leonardo Di Caprio).

The dreamachine is an amazing device, and to Aes-Nihil’s credit there’s plenty of flickering trippy shots of the gizmo, but at best his doc is purely for Burroughs fans wanting to see some of the final footage taken of the author and those interested in buying an actual dreamachine.

Cult Epics’ DVD includes a still gallery featuring images from the film set to music, and a taped lecture in St. Petersburg where Woodward articulates the uniqueness of the Burroughs-Gysin gizmo after its  installation at the city’s Freud Museum of Dreams. Much of Woodward’s oration is interpolated with Russian translations for the audience, and the audio levels are often quite hot in an otherwise informative piece.

Aes-Nihil also directed something called The Nova Convention Revisited (1998), which also includes footage with Burroughs, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, and Deborah Harry.

The dreamachine was later the subject of a far superior (albeit Gysin-centric) feature-length NFB doc FLicKeR (2008).



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.