Filmed 24 May 2008, edited 25 May 2008.
Directed by Simon Strong
DVD : 58:00 : b/w
Filmed 24 May 2008, edited 25 May 2008.
The Second Most Annoying Film Ever Made…
Simon Strong talks about his film The The Naked Lunch and the Naked The Naked Lunch.
29 November 2011
Mr Strong… let’s begin with a classic interview question: is there anything about your oeuvre that you regret?
Well yes. Although I’m very happy with the stylistic and entertainment quality of my oeuvre, I cannot help but feel strongly that any value is offset by a fundamental flaw. My works are characterized by an overcurrent of nihilism and moral ambiguity that I personally find grossly offensive. I conceive myself as kindred with positive humanist writers such as Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut or Douglas Adams for example, but my audience seems to consider me the Marquis De Sade 2.0 or the North English William Burroughs. This appraisal is entirely understandable given the actual content of the works in question.
This then prompts the question: why not produce stuff that you like?
I do like a lot of my own stuff… and I like it a lot… I just wish it had someone else’s name on the cover. As far as I’m concerned, I am my target audience. Since I produce stuff primarily for my own consumption I try to emphasise novelty by introducing randomized, automated or spontaneous elements in order to render it more accessible to me. It is usually these elements that I find most problematic.
So it’s not self-loathing?
(laughter) no… no… the very thought of it! (snort) I think it’s more likely to do with objectivity and sharply honed critical faculties.
Your film of ‘The Naked Lunch’ has caused some online controversy, even despite the fact that only the trailer has been released.
I do hate to be pedantic, but that isn’t a question by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t even have a thingy at the end.
A question mark?
That’s the ticket!
How about “Do you have anything to say about the controversy around your film of ‘The Naked Lunch'”?
Yes. That’s better.
Do you have anything to say about the controversy around your film of ‘The Naked Lunch’
Well… yes. Firstly, it is very misleading to call it a film of ‘The Naked Lunch’.
But it is!
And that is precisely why it is misleading… for the same reasons that our world is so pervaded by deceit and dishonesty. The film actually goes to great lengths to avoid including, or even referring to, any content from the novel at all… although the title, and more specifically the definite article of the title, does warrant some discussion therein.
Was this a response to Cronenberg’s selective appropriation of the text?
Yes it was. I figured that if Cronenberg could omit all the significant episodes of the novel [from his film], I should respond by omitting everything. The only thing I did leave in was a reference to the most glaring, and yet most apparently insignificant, omission.
Why do you hate Cronenberg so much? Are there not more worthy targets for scorn?
I absolutely do not hate David Cronenberg. I want be very clear on this. As I implied in my first response, I‘m not very disposed to hatred at all. In so-called reality, I have a great deal of respect for the chap. I’d even go as far as to say that some of his films look as if they could be quite interesting in some ways. I am simply disinclined to watch them. I have only seen Naked Lunch and Crash — and they was on at the pictures so I’d already paid my money and didn’t want to walk out halfway. I also saw Dead Ringers on tv but that was full of adverts and hard to judge. I watched it by accident, I thought it was the BBC comedy show with that Tom Baker impersonator. Fuckin hilarious! (laughs)
In your film, you sound like you have a big problem with him…
As I was saying earlier, if it doesn’t have a thingy at the end, it isn’t a question.
My point exactly…
Why then, in your film, does it sound like you have such a big problem with him?
Ahhhhhhhh…. Because it was fucking funnier like that? That’s all. It’s sort of… put on… because… it’s like… a film. I think they call it acting or something.
So what was your motivation?
Well… Cronenberg’s film was intended to be confronting only in a very conventional way. I set out to be confronting in unconventional ways: the patronizing tone of the narration; the long silences; insulting the audience; the introduction of deliberate errors…
Such as the reference to Julian Temple?
Indeed… everyone knows that Russell Mulcahy made that clip for Duran Duran, or that a text’s single (intrinsic) dimension is spatial rather than a temporal. I did that to make it obvious that I was trying to look stupid… in opposition to Cronenberg’s desperate attempts to look clever.
Elsewhere, you cited Ballard as an influence on AMBO… so what did you think of Crash? Can we uh “look forward” to a Strong version of that?
I didn’t think anything about Cronenberg’s Crash at all, except for my mate’s comment when we came out of the cinema was funny. He said “That was disappointing… I was expecting it to be hardcore.” Yikes! I should choose my friends more carfully… I mean carefully. I was overseas when it hit the UK so I missed all the fuss.
Is there anything about Cronenberg that you find of value?
His strong continental lager is fucking fantastic! 1664! Alright! Blimey! (etc)
Is there any truth to the rumour that you have a book on Burroughs in the pipeline?
No… that’s just the cut of my trousers. I mean… yes. No. Many years ago I commenced a book to be entitled “Even the old dude is cool”. It was to be about Burroughs musical and film career. I lost interest after Burroughs’ oeuvre was entirely recuperated by the Babylon shitstem.
So what’s next?
I dunno. I’d like to make a film of J.W. Dunne’s An Experiment with Time. I reckon it would be piss easy and dead funny… and maybe even both…
Simon… thank you…
Interview with Adrien Clerc, 29 January 2014
My first question will be about your relation to Burroughs related movies… Do you think it’s possible to make a «faithfull» movie based on Burroughs ?
Definitely not. Well, not in any meaningful sense. I’m quite sure it’s impossible to make a faithful movie based on anything. You’ll note that my film attempts the very modest task of representing just the physical attributes of one edition of one of Burroughs’ best-known texts, and that it fails spectacularly (sorry, I think that might have been a pun) even in that. Of course, the notion of pre-destined failure only made the task appear more noble to me, but it did allow me the luxury of sabotaging my own project without sacrifice. I’m not sure if that’s a paradox or not. Probably both.
Is it because Burroughs’s work still has a revolutionary value that it is so difficult to make a movie out of it?
I’m unconvinced by the notion of an artefact possessing overall intrinsic revolutionary (or reactionary) value. See, for instance, the Nazi’s use of “degenerate art” or modern day culture-jamming. Subversive potential comes down to the context. Indeed, by publicising the techniques of the Control Machine, Burroughs’ oeuvre may have done more harm than good. Burroughs’ suggested techniques (e.g. cut-ups/flicker/more) are now used openly by reactionary forces and rarely by their opponents.
The extent of control of the commercial film industry by reactionary forces entails that even the tiniest degree of subversion can only occur there by accident or be incidental. I can’t think of any examples of a commercial film where the apparently subversive elements outweigh the reactionary. Types of artefacts requiring lower capital investment (e.g. pamphlets) provide more scope, which is one reason why commercial film-making is artificially kept expensive.
And, very different question : do you think it’s possible to make a good movie based on Burroughs’s work ?
I’m not very comfortable with the word ‘good’:
“Good” in economic terms?: Certainly!
“Good” in terms of generating a consensus of critical opinion?: No, because Burroughs fans tend to be intellectually combative.
“Good” in evolutionary terms?: I’m not sure what I mean by that.
“Good” in educational and/or entertainment terms: definitely, q.v. Balch’s work, and André Perkowski’s mindbogglingly great version of Nova Express.
The book you wrote about the subject is mentioning all the Burroughs-related movies and albums you found… what was the idea behind that?
I concur with Burroughs and Gysin that the only valid reason to work “creatively” is “to see what happens”, or “to make the invisible visible”, to which I would append “to have a fuckin laff”, which is essentially the same thing.
You said your movie « The the naked lunch and the naked the naked lunch » was an answer to Cronenberg’s movie. What would you think of his « Naked Lunch » if it was called, let’s say, «Bill Lee» ?
I would like it much better. Indeed, I have offered to revise my opinion were he merely to put his title in quote marks, i.e. “Naked Lunch”. This imaginative workaround strikes me as a quite generous. I wonder what I would have thought if he had called it The Wild Boys?
Actually, I probably still wouldn’t care for it much. The compromises that were essential to produce a commercial film are the very things that overwhelm and negate the Burroughsian elements. Given the current “conditions of total emergency” I’m inclined to believe that it’s not possible to produce subversive work within the confines of the system itself. Unfortunately, this situation entails that those type of works are the only ones that have any relevance or significance.
Do you think it would have changed something, if Antony Balch had made his own « Naked Lunch » ?
Everything I have heard about Gysin and Balch’s Naked Lunch leads me to believe that it would have been a very interesting proposition. Importantly, due to Balch’s death in 1980, the film would have had to have been produced prior to the ongoing “neo-liberal” counter-revolutionary reagan/thatcher hegemony, when it was still possible to produce meaningful works within the commercial infrastructure. One potential problem however is posed by the potential casting Mick Jagger, who is rubbish in all films, even One Plus One and Enigma.
Your « version » could be seen as a situationnist take on Burroughs. Could you elaborate on the links you see between the IS and WSB, if any ?
Given their common time/space co-ordinates, it seems incredible that DeBord and his pals didn’t physically intersect with Burroughs’ circle, other than via Alex Trocchi, but that seems to be the case. We can easily speculate on the myriad reasons there may have been ambivalence or antagonism (if such there was) between the two circles. Nevertheless, the societal critiques of Burroughs and the SI have much in common, although their modes of expression and calls to action have very divergent emphases. I suppose the most obvious schism is that the SI prioritised coherence, whereas Burroughs prioritised completeness.
Is it related to “Rape vs Murder” in your mind, and if so, how?
Prof. Jason Crest sometimes claims to be related to Iain Sommerville, but he talks a lot of shit.
You work on the link between the voice and the image, which you reduce to almost nothing – the « idea » of « Naked Lunch ». Do you think it would be possible, let’s say, to make a silent version of the « Naked Lunch » ?
My film TTNLATNTNL is literally a silent film. When I made it, I didn’t give any thought to the soundtrack, probably assuming it would have none at all (unlike so-called “silent” films that had extemporaneous live music and sound effects performed live, or a recorded musical soundtrack). However, my film is now usually presented with the bonus director’s commentary (recorded the day after filming) as a soundtrack.
If someone were to attempt to make a version of Burroughs’ book, I think it would be an EXCELLENT idea to make it in a pre-sound-era stylee with inter-titles and live musical accompaniment. I’m not sure why, but something inclines me to the idea. Of course, it is very quite likely that I shall soon be making “The The Naked Lunch and The Naked The Naked Lunch 2: The The The Naked Lunch and The Naked The Naked Lunch and The Naked The The Naked Lunch and The Naked The Naked Lunch.” So I may give it a shot there.
If these are enough for you, thanks! If not, second round soon!
Thanks Adrien, Good luck!
Interview by David Cox for Otherzine,
David Cox: Your film THE THE NAKED LUNCH AND THE NAKED THE NAKED LUNCH seems to draw attention to its own structure as “bonus” extra. I like this idea of the bonus extra as the main feature. Can you talk about this?
Simon Strong: The first (Paris Olympia Press) edition of The Naked Lunch was the only edition of the book EVER to feature the text of The Naked Lunch without any supplementary material. There have been numerous rationales provided for the agglomeration of extra texts to the book but the only credible reason is to dilute the impact of the core text to help forestall its prosecution for obscenity. Thus, in a process analogous to “cutting” in narcotic terminology, The Naked Lunch was the one of the first and most intensively expanded books in literary history,* pre-figuring the cult of snowballing extra material into reissues (usually for marketing reasons) that became relevant after the advent of CDs and format-based obsolescence.
To return to my film. I had originally intended the film to be silent (except for opening and closing theme music) but then I thought it would be funny to provide a director’s commentary. I couldn’t be arsed (DC note—this means “bothered”) doing the separate track and the gag would not have worked on online versions anyway, so that’s why it’s like it is. You can find a literary precedent for this gag in Paul Fournel’s book Suburbia (1996).
*q.v. Carol Loranger. “This Book Spill Off the Page in All Directions: What Is the Text of Naked Lunch?” Postmodern Culture 10.1 (1999)—a rather inadequate overview on a few levels.
DC: You tell the audience to go fuck themselves—is this a sentiment you really hold, is your audience a pack of “fucking idiots, who might well watch the film and drive at the same time?” Have you seen this happen?
SS: Quite the reverse! The prickliness is an affectionate affectation. I am very grateful for the indulgence of any audience, and I very much hope that they enjoy my films! Although this hope is complimented by the expectation that they will not. As for watching films and driving at the same time, my film is the very first to issue this kind of warning, an idea [that] seemed flippant at the time of its production. The advent of pocket televisions (or “iPads,” “Android tablets,” as they are sometimes called) has made this scenario so common that I expect this type of admonition to become statutory anytime soon.
DC: You say that you deserve a “not inconsiderable financial compensation.”
SS: Well, we don’t always get what we deserve—or do we?—but in any case, this is an overtly ridiculous statement as I go to great lengths to avoid payment for all my creative work.
DC: The whole film is a long take of the cover of the book The Naked Lunch—is this a wind-up or a howl in favor of Sade?
SS: It’s an example of Stewart Home’s “Durational Cinema.” I wanted a cross between Warhol’s non-shit work (especially EMPIRE and SLEEP) and the French Situationists.
DC: The mutability of the title of your work is one of the key themes—the suppression of the definite article “The” is an interesting point—what else can you tell us about this?
SS: This is discussed in the film, but I now have a wealth of extra info regarding the definite article in the title. It is even more complicated and creeepy than I thought! I can’t elaborate for reasons that I can’t even go into. Suffice to say that the story of the “The” in the title is one of the most fascinating and perverse tales in literary history! I believe Craig (Baldwin) was looking into links between William Burroughs and Guy Debord (via Alex Trocchi, I guess). If he tells me what he knows, I may be able to confirm or deny some details but there is some seriously heavy shit going on here! Since I am aware that this article will be read by certain interested parties, it may be prudent to give the safe-word: JISM-FORGE.
DC: Tell us about the Ledatape organization—how many books is it currently publishing, and how many authors are on the list currently?
SS: The LedaTape Organisation is too big to be seen by the human eye. It’s the same shape as the universe itself, but not as useful. There are printed books (although they come in and out of print sporadically)—these ya can get (or not) through most online booksellers. eBooks are in the pipeline—these will be free and gratiswhere possible. We also have music available through archive.org—and an active YouTube chan—and some of our stuff is up at ubuweb.com.
Future projects. Well, I’m currently trying to get David Cronenberg to personally apologize to me about his film. Apart from that, I’m working on a 23-hour-long film about the role of protest music in the 20th century. It’s called BECAUSE FUCK YOU! THAT’S WHY… Everything is true. Nothing is permitted. Peace off. Ites!