Tonight: William S. Burroughs rides again

More than two decades ago, freelance writer Gregory Daurer thought it would be cool to track down William S. Burroughs at Naropa and hook him up to a brain machine.

Audio excerpts of Daurer's interview with Burroughs surface in a new documentary on the outlaw novelist playing tonight at 7 p.m. and again on Thursday at the Starz Denver Film Festival.

Directed by young filmmaker Yony Leyser, A Man Within is a tribute to Burroughs' enduring cult appeal across generations, from raggedy Beats of the 1950s to drug-infatuated 1960s devotees of Naked Lunch to punk banks of the 1970s and beyond. The doc features archival footage and interviews featuring Burroughs (who died in 1997), interspersed with new perspectives from the likes of John Waters, Patti Smith and Gus Van Sant (who directed the cantankerous godfather of heroin chic in a small but memorable role in Drugstore Cowboy).

Denver's Daurer hasn't seen the film and doesn't know how much of his encounter with Burroughs in the late 1980s is used in Leyser's final cut, but he remembers the session well. "He was kind of persnickety," he recalls. "I was young and just starting out, and he didn't suffer fools gladly. But it all worked out."

And the brain machine? Burroughs put on the flashing headgear obligingly, but the rented gizmo didn't produce any of the fireworks one finds in Burroughs' novels.

Look below for a trailer from the film:

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast