Burroughs on the big screen

Much has been written and filmed about author/artist William S. Burroughs, who moved in Lawrence in 1981 and lived here for the remainder of his life. But any trace of 1983’s “Burroughs: The Movie,” considered to be the definitive documentary on his life and work, had been considered missing.

The movie’s director, Howard Brookner, died tragically of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 34, just as his career was taking off. Three years ago, his nephew, filmmaker Aaron Brookner, hoping to preserve Howard’s legacy, searched exhaustively for a negative of “Burroughs: The Movie” that could be digitally restored. A 16mm print was discovered in storage at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and was loaned out for his restoration project.

To celebrate Burroughs’ birthday on Feb. 5, Liberty Hall is showing the digitally restored “Burroughs: The Movie” at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. The film is currently being distributed for worldwide screenings through Janus Films.

Brookner started filming the doc in 1978 as an NYC film school project with some fellow students. His soundman was Jim Jarmusch, his cinematographer was Tom DiCillo (“Living in Oblivion”), and he had unprecedented access to Burroughs.

“Burroughs: The Movie” is the only documentary made with its subject’s direct participation, and in the film, Burroughs discusses subjects such as the accidental shooting of his wife and his artistic process. There’s footage of Burroughs at home, working out his speech to protest California’s failed Proposition 6, which would have banned gays from working in public schools, and was defeated with the help of Harvey Milk.

The film also contains interviews with NYC contemporaries Allen Ginsberg, Terry Southern, and Patti Smith, and following its theatrical run, the "Burroughs: The Movie" will be added to The Criterion Collection.

Valentine’s Day Alternatives

Speaking of Criterion — the home to the greatest digital library of films on the planet — two of the company’s recent Blu-ray and DVD restorations would make perfect Valentine’s Day viewing for those who are tired of Hollywood’s latest and increasingly formulaic offerings.

“The Palm Beach Story,” directed by Preston Sturges, is about as breezy, carefree, and anarchic as romantic comedies get. This Hollywood Golden Age classic from 1942 stars Claudette Colbert as a married woman who runs away from husband Joel McCrea, even though she’s still in love with him. Full of absurd comedic digressions and bookends that still don’t quite make sense, this eccentric road trip comedy would likely never get made in today’s conservative Hollywood climate.

The luminous Colbert is at the top of her game, delivering Sturges’ witty repartee with astonishing frankness and perfect comic timing. She may have helped invent the screwball comedy with Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night,” but here Colbert gets to push the boundaries of the genre, with Sturges’ confident hand.

The disc includes a number of illuminating interviews, including one from Sturges aficionado Bill Hader.

On the other side of the coin from upbeat comedy is Criterion’s 4K remastered “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant,” a beautifully claustrophobic 1972 romantic drama that applies Bertold Brecht’s “epic theater” concepts to film.

Prolific writer/director Rainer Werner Fassbinder first staged this semi-autobiographical movie as a play, but it really took flight as a movie, flip-flopping gender and exploring his own romantic obsession with an actor through the roles of two women.

Director of photography Michael Ballhaus later shot Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” “Gangs of New York,” and “The Departed,” but this is the cinematographer’s breakthrough movie. He steers his camera artfully through a house in long, flowing takes that reinforce the alienation of established fashion designer Petra (Margit Carstensen), who falls madly in love with new girl Karin (Hanna Schygulla).

On one level, “The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant” is an engrossing character study about changing power dynamics in relationships. On another, it’s simply a marvel of fluid, focused filmmaking — where everything in the frame is loaded with meaning.

1152 Hour Film Festival

The Wild West Film Festival is celebrating 10 years of creative madness, sleepless nights and helping charities by shaking things up. Each year, teams of filmmakers are handed a secret criteria and then have 48 hours to write, cast, shoot and edit an original short film. Only this year, the each team has 48 days to complete their film.

The official name of this year’s competition is the 1152 Hour Film Festival, and teams from anywhere can enter online now. At 7 p.m. Feb. 6, the secret criteria will be emailed to each team and production begins. There are no restrictions on location, team size or budget.

To celebrate, Friday night at The Granada there will be a free screening of "Wild West Film Flix," a new 22-minute TV show on Channel 6 and Lawrence Television Network that compiles some of the best films of the past 10 years. Visit wildwestfilmfest.org for more information.

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