Thursday, 18 October 2012

Naked Lunch In John Boorman's Catch Us If You Can

A rare, possibly unique appearance of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch in a mainstream film. Imagine my surprise when actor Clive Swift is seen reading it in John Boorman's Catch Us If You Can. Rewind - pause - yes, there it is. Although it's a battered copy, this John Calder edition was published in '64 and the film was released a year later, so it was pretty hot off the press. 

I can't help wondering why Boorman, if it was his idea, placed such a significant item of 60s counter culture in the hands of one of the film's baddies. Perhaps it's a joke for the cognoscenti of cool. Swift plays a henchman of the powerful company that owns the star of the ad they're filming and he's engrossed in the most outrageous novel of it's time. Is he conducting research to see what all the fuss is about? Or trying to get into the mindset of the young generation? Going deeper, since the ad they're filming is to promote meat, could Boorman have known Ginsberg's poem about Naked Lunch? If so, hats off to him for planting such a hip and very obscure reference.

On Burroughs' Work

The method must be purest meat
        and no symbolic dressing,
actual visions & actual prisons
        as seen then and now.

Prisons and visions presented
        with rare descriptions
corresponding exactly to those
        of Alcatraz and Rose.

A naked lunch is natural to us,
        we eat reality sandwiches.
But allegories are so much lettuce.
        Don't hide the madness.

Allen Ginsberg, San Jose, 1954

Boorman's debut, a vehicle for the Dave Clark Five, shows no hint of the directorial brilliance he would bring to later triumphs such as Point Blank and Deliverance, although Pauline Kael said at the time 'It is one of those films that linger in the memory'. It's the appearance of Naked Lunch that lingers in mine, along with the title song, unfortunately.

The kids, starlet Dinah (Barbara Ferris) and stunt man Steve (Dave Clark), flee the set in an E-Type and finally head for the West Country, pursued by agents of the evil ad company who wish to own Dinah body and soul. The best scenes are an encounter with a hippy tribe, portrayed as unhappy lost souls of the blank generation, and a middle-aged couple in Bath. Robin Bailey, as the husband, puts in a star performance, especially during the scene in his room. Yootha Joyce, as his wife, hints at things to come in her most famous role as Mildred, the desperate housewife in the 70s sitcom, George And Mildred. 

Any points about the futility of dreams and a controlling media establishment are washed away by dull musical sequences and obligatory 'wacky' 60s behaviour. The script must have been about twenty pages thick, and the two lead characters are one-dimensional cut-outs from the book of stereotypes (her: posh, frothy, naive; him: silent, moody).

On the plus side, the Jazzy incidental music is provided by Basil Kirchin, who's first full-length soundtrack, Primitive London, would appear in the same year. As for this film, to paraphrase the Dave Clark Five hit, I was glad when it was all over.


  1. It could have been Clive Swift's own idea: he was married to Margaret Drabble at the time, so doubtless moved in bookish circles.

  2. Sounds feasible, Tim. I suppose it's notoriety was enough to attract curious 'bookish' types. I'd like to know what Clive made of it.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...