Burroughs: The Movie has one of those production stories where a documentary about the making of the film might be more interesting than the film itself. That would have been the case if Burroughs: The Movie's subject matter wasn't so interesting, but the story of how the documentary was shot and how it was released gives the film itself a run for its money.
Burroughs: The Movie started as director Howard Brookner's NYU film school thesis project. Brookner wanted to follow William S. Burroughs, one of the most important writers of the beat generation, as well as one of the most fascinating literary figures in American history, around with his camera in order to hopefully get a deeply honest look into his life.
In time, Brookner began getting so much great stuff out of Burroughs and his friends and family, that his short expanded into a feature as he kept shooting new footage for the following five years. Brookner eventually finished his film in 1983; it was shown a couple of times shortly after its completion, and then it promptly disappeared from circulation. Decades later, a print of the film was found by Aaron Brookner, Howard's nephew.
In 2011, Aaron spearheaded a restoration, assisted by American indie legends Jim Jarmusch and Tom DiCillo, who worked on the original production as sound recordist and camera operator respectively. The restoration was finished in 2014, and after a short festival run; it makes perfect sense for the doc to finally find a home in the Criterion Collection.
Burroughs: The Movie is an intensely personal look into the life of the author, who had his share of pain and disillusionment in his life. Brookner's ability to get direct confessions about very painful events in Burroughs' past, which includes a horrific accident that involved his wife, is admirable, and definitely makes up for the somewhat amateurish look of the film.
The documentary basically consists of a series of interviews intercut with footage of Burroughs' day-to-day life. It's obviously very important for such an artifact of cultural significance to be preserved in the best HD media as possible, but don't expect much from Burroughs: The Movie's 1080p transfer in terms of eye candy. This is a very rough-looking film, one that ends up perfectly matching the inner life of its subject, and it can be purchased or rented in pretty much any format without much of a loss in visual enjoyment.
The extras are also very important here, since they go into the details of how the film was made, as well as how it was rediscovered. In that sense, Jim Jarmusch's audio commentary is essential. The disc is also filled with outtakes and extra footage for the hard core Burroughs fans to dig into.
Burroughs: The Movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion.