Queer, Junkie, Burroughs

William S BurroughsTom Wilkinson is 66 today. He is one of my very favorite actors. He first came to my attention in The Full Monty, where he plays a character whose authority has caused him to be estranged from other people. The part is incredibly well written, but Wilkinson’s performance adds greak depth to it. I really thought he stole the show, in a show filled with great performances. Later, of course, he played Hugh Fennyman, the loan shark who falls in love with the theater in Shakespeare in Love. Although it is kind of a silly role, he makes it completely believable. Most recently, he was wonderful in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But the performance I most associate with him is Arthur, the manic-depressive lawyer in Michael Clayton. I love this scene where he effectively plays two characters at once:

Jennifer Jason Leigh is 52 today. I think she is a fine actor. I especially liked her in The Hudsucker Proxy (doing her best Rosalind Russell), Dolores Claiborne, and eXistenZ. But to be perfectly honest, I’ve long had a crush on her.

Other birthdays: German Romanticism painter Carl Spitzweg (1808); outlaw Belle Starr (1848); presidential candidate and sole hole shoe wearer Adlai Stevenson (1900); actor John Carradine (1906); film director Michael Mann (71); musician Al Kooper (70); actor Charlotte Rampling (68); comedian Christopher Guest (66); actor Barbara Hershey (66); comedian Tim Meadows (53); actor Laura Linney (50); and actor Nora Zehetner (33).

JunkieThe day, however, belongs to the writer William S Burroughs who was born on this day in 1914. He is best known for the novel Naked Lunch. It is an interesting book. An amazing book! But I don’t think it works that well. It has amazing highs though. Like a lot of great art, it is an important book because it was trailblazing. It inspired generations of writers. As I’ve noted before, the science fiction legend William Gibson would have been nothing if not for Burroughs. But for me, Burroughs was at his best in his first novel, Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict. Admittedly, I’m interested in the subject matter. But I still prefer the more straightforward narrative.

Ultimately, Burroughs was a lazy writer. And it is doubtful if he ever would have gotten anything published had it not been for his Beat Generation friends—most especially Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. That’s not to minimize what Burroughs did. I think it is often the case that people who are hung up on form and technique aren’t able to make really original contributions to the art. And ultimately, what Burroughs offers is something quite unique: honesty. Even in the books I most love, that is in short supply.

Happy birthday William S Burroughs!

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