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Film

Watch Gus Van Sant's music video starring William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs made multiple iconic appearances in several cinematic projects over the course of a fascinating career. While Burroughs was primarily known for his contributions to the Beat Generation and the evolution of American literature, he also collaborated with filmmakers such as David Blair and Gus Van Sant among others.

Although Burroughs worked with Van Sant on memorable projects such as Drugstore Cowboy and  Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, there is also one particular music video which they shot together. It was made as a part of the promotion campaign for Tornado Alley, a collection of short stories and poems by Burroughs that was published in 1989.

Burroughs dedicated the entire collection to John Dillinger, the notorious gangster who started a wave of terror during the Great Depression by robbing many banks as well as police stations. While federal agents tried their best to track him down, Dillinger was painted as a Robin Hood figure by the media for his daring actions.

The Beat legend intended Tornado Alley to be a tribute to Dillinger in which he revealed that he hoped the infamous crime boss was still alive. Gus Van Sant shot a video of Burroughs reading his poem ‘Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986’ where he attempted to construct a dark and grotesque portrait of the America that he saw before his eyes.

Shot by Van Sant, Burroughs is absolutely unrelenting in his scathing criticism of American public policies and the very conception of the idea of America itself. Protesting against the whitewashing of the history of Thanksgiving, Burroughs launches a tirade against American hypocrisy and the unforgivable violence that gave birth to America.

“Thanks for the wild turkey and/The passenger pigeons, destined/To be shat out through wholesome/American guts./Thanks for a continent to despoil/And poison,” Burroughs declares, engaging in a sarcastic treatment of the superficiality of Thanksgiving. That’s not all, he also attacks some of the fundamental institutions of America by criticising the KKK and police brutality against the Black community.

In addition to these comments, Burroughs weaves in conspiracy theories such as one about how the CIA had manufactured AIDS while also talking about the meaninglessness of the war against drugs and Prohibition. Ranging from the evil of America’s obsession with religion to the rampant homophobia, Burroughs is unstoppable.

Watch Gus Van Sant’s short film starring William S. Burroughs below.