Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Last Words of Dutch Schultz

William S. Burroughs The Last Words of Dutch Schultz (1975)
Thanks mainly to Porridge going on about him in the pages of Sounds, I discovered Burroughs back when I was a teenager. At the time my mum was taking a degree in English and American Literature at Warwick University and she would occasionally smuggle me into the extensive campus library presumably so as to encourage my increasingly esoteric interests on the grounds that I probably wasn't going to shine as either a farmhand or the bloke on the till at a garage. The library had an impressive shelf of hardback editions of Burroughs, most of which I'd never heard of because they tended not to be listed under by the same author opposite the title pages of Naked Lunch or any of Billy's other top forty chart smashes.

Even without my somewhat uneven relationship with the written word, I never got around to looking at this one. There were just too many of them to get through in the three years of my mother taking her degree, and eventually I forgot about it. Decades later I encounter the general idea of Dutch Schultz having had last words in Wilson and Shea's Illuminatus!, which was additionally interesting because up to that point I'm not sure I realised that Dutch had been an actual person, one whose deathbed ramblings had contained the secret of the universe, existence, reality and all that - according to Wilson and Shea.

Newsday said that the rigid conventions of screen writing give Burroughs' savage vision a Haiku-like purity and intensity; whilst Kirkus opined this to be Burroughs' most accessible, tightly knit work of fiction... Laid out as a stripped-down movie script, it's almost as if this is the form that Burroughs has always needed.

As you may therefore gather, The Last Words of Dutch Schultz is a script for a film which no-one ever got around to making, unfortunately including Dennis Hopper who had the rights for a while. As a slim book it's vaguely atmospheric, plenty of moody photos of Dutch and his pals interspersed with a terse script describing scenes from the guy's life, and at least some of that deathbed speech. It takes about an hour to read the thing, and the last words don't really seem to contain any clues to anything unless you're looking far too hard; and it doesn't really do enough to coax me into forming any strong opinions. If you really think this is the form that Burroughs has always needed, you probably shouldn't have bothered reading him in the first place. It's all right for what it is, but nothing which hasn't worked better on screen as The Godfather; and ultimately I suspect I'd rather watch the film than read the script, or at least this script, so it's probably not fair to say anything further.

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