Previously at the ICA - Films

Antony Balch, The Cut-Ups, 1967

The Cut Ups + Towers Open Fire

7 May 2014

16mm screening of the collage films made by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin with Anthony Balch in the mid to late 1960s. Presented to coincide with Burroughs's centenary year and the reading room display Paperwork: A Brief History of Artists' Scrapbooks, which includes Burroughs's scrapbooks.

The Cut-Ups
Director Antony Balch, UK 1967, 19 mins, black and white

Footage of Burroughs and Gysin – pacing the streets, undertaking simple tasks such as packing a suitcase or opening an umbrella, and experimenting with Gysin’s hypnotic ‘dreamachine’ – is edited, layered and repeated in The Cut-Ups – as are short phrases taken from Scientology audit tests. Balch chopped the film sequences into 30-metre lengths and had a technician splice them back together randomly. He also layered the celluloid – placing multiple strips of negative and positive film stock on top of each other – so as to increase the viewer’s sense of proto-psychedelic disorientation. The Cut-Ups is at once baffling, involving, complex and direct – it punches straight for the optic nerve. Ushers frequently found coats, bags and umbrellas left in the auditorium by bewildered patrons after screenings at the Cinephone on Oxford Street where it ran for two weeks in 1966.
(William Fowler, 'Dream Screens - Remembering Antony Balch, filmmaker and distributor extraordinaire', Frieze, 14 March 2013).

Towers Open Fire
Director Antony Balch, UK 1963, 10 mins, black and white

Towers Open Fire is a straight-forward attempt to find a cinematic equivalent for William Burroughs' writing: a collage of all the key themes and situations in the books, accompanied by a Burroughs soundtrack narration. Society crumbles as the Stock Exchange crashes, members of the Board are raygun-zapped in their own boardroom, and a commando in the orgasm attack leaps through a window and decimates a family photo collection, the liberated individual acts: Balch himself masturbates ('silver arrow through the night...'), Burroughs as the junkie (his long-standing metaphor for the capitalist supply-and-demand situation) breaks on through to the hallucinatory world of Brion Gysin Dream Machines. Balch lets us stare into the Dream Machines, finding faces to match our own. 'Anything that can be done chemically can be done by other means'. So the film is implicitly a challenge to its audience. But we're playing with indefinables that we don't really understand yet, and so Mikey Portman's music-hall finale is interrupted by science-fiction attack from the skies, as lost boardroom reports drift through the countryside...
(Tony Rayns, 'Interview with Antony Balch', Cinema Rising No.1, April 1972).

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