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April 14, 2015

William S. Burroughs in the Dreamachine

dreamachine 1.jpg

Jon Aes-Nihil and David Woodard
Cult Epics Region 0 DVD

The dreamachine was a device created by the artist Brion Gysin and mathematician Ian Sommerville as a brain wave simulator. The object was to induce hallucinations and visions without drugs. The stroboscopic effect created with light coming out of holes matched alpha waves. The way to use the dreamachine is with eyes closed for hypnagogic visions.

Those special brownies attributed to Alice B. Toklas originated as a joke inserted by Gysin. His collaborations with William S. Burroughs lead to the cut up technique of literary assemblage usually credited solely to Burroughs. What I wish we had here would have been a documentary on Gysin and Burroughs.

What we have is probably more of interest to the Burroughs scholar or completist. Part of the film is video footage of Burroughs holding court at an outdoor table at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with Allen Ginsberg sitting next to him. The event was a 1996 exhibit of paintings by Burroughs. People come by to get an autograph. Not the kind of image one usually associates with Burroughs, but we see him briefly cradling an infant, like a wizened old grandpa.

dreamachine 2.jpg

Writer and composer David Woodard has built his own dreamachines. One was used in the 1996 Burroughs exhibit, and one was given to Burroughs as a gift. Part of this film is of Woodard and Burroughs in conversation in Burroughs' small, unassuming house in Lawrence, Kansas. Woodard is also filmed making one of his dreamachines, and ruminating on the highway that once was numbered 666. A bonus feature is of Woodard presenting a dreamachine at the Freud Museum of Dreams in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2007

The significance of the Burroughs footage here is that it was shot shortly before his death in 1997. I'm not sure if any of the video tapes were intended for public consumption. For those passionate about all things related to William Burroughs, this film may be of some interest.

Posted by peter at April 14, 2015 07:24 AM