Wednesday, December 16, 2015

AntiCurrent Video Archives Vol 5: William S. Burroughs- The Junky's Christmas

Old Bull Lee
William S. Burroughs:
There are only a few select writers on the planet that I would rather listen to than read, and William S. Burroughs is among that group. Even though you unmistakably hear his voice when you're reading, there's something magical about the old man's flat tone and creaking, crotchety voice that adds a layer of ambiance that augments his written word so perfectly. Though his voice did age like a fine whiskey, he was born an old soul who Kerouac described as "...a gray, nondescript-looking fellow you wouldn't notice on the street unless you looked closer and saw his mad, bony skull..." Burroughs was only 43 years old when that description of him was published in 1957's On The Road.

Spare Ass Annie
The best capture (or at least my favorite) of his unmistakable voice was on the 1993 album, Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales. On it, he recorded many of his short stories from miscellaneous books through the years put to a backing tracks by The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. One of the most notable of these tracks was "The Junky's Christmas", a short story from his 1989 book Interzone. The story is all about a junky named Danny who is released from jail on Christmas day and is attempting to find his fix. After searching the entire city, he dupes a doctor and gets a small dose via a pill. As he returns to a hotel to shoot up, he instead discovers a kid going through kidney stones in agony and shoots him up instead. It's a beautifully twisted little story about choosing humanity over your own addictions.

Junky's Christmas Short Film:
The story combined with music and Burroughs' amazing narration was so brilliant in fact that Zoetrope Pictures (Francis Ford Coppola's company) and VH1 teamed up to turn it into a narrative, short film. The film was done as claymation with live action bookends where Burroughs pulls Interzone off the shelf and effectively reads you the tale on Christmas day with his friends and family. It was aired on VH1 (presumably as part of a Christmas lineup) and was eventually released via Koch Vision in 2006 on a long out-of-print DVD.

The problem with the DVD release is that it sucks. The claymation footage is presented as interlaced and in the wrong aspect ratio. This is unfortunately a normal result of mixed media presentations on DVD. It's hard to say exactly who's fault this is, but generally it results when the disc image is being designed immediately before being delivered to the factory. Additionally there are sections where Danny's collar has a moire effect going on due to the crosshatching on his coat. This is more than likely accentuated due to the project being edited on tape rather than on film.

This Release:
RestoredSo in order to fix this, I downloaded an ISO, disc-image capture of the film from the ever-amazing Uncle Jerk (who's post about this movie is the reason I'm writing this blog, thanks Jerk!). I popped it into Premiere CC, upscaled it and cut the movie apart from it's live action bits. I deinterlaced the claymation, stretched it out from its wrong aspect ratio into the correct 4:3 dimension. To remove the moire effect I desaturated all sections of the movie that didn't have color, and I snapped the blacks to a reasonable number in order to remove some of the DVD's digital artifacts. This is likely the best version that will ever be made available unless the original authors return to the original tape captures of the material.

*If you have a keen eye, you may notice that the claymation footage still has ghosting (blended frames) but after experimenting with several different frame rates to attempt to solve the problem, I consulted my friend Ian about it. After reviewing the credits at the end (which will show you if the image is skipping, repeating, or blending frames), it is undeniable that this project was created with them as either purposeful, or that they are baked in and cannot be removed without very tedious work.

Final Thought:
Amazing Claymation Work
If you dig this little gem, go and buy the album "Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales" because it's pure gold. Also, if you dug this (I don't know how widely available it is for purchase), grab Burroughs' audio-book of "Junky", you won't regret it. The point is, this isn't meant to compete with being able to purchase an artist's work, merely to make available things that are rare or out-of-print that should be experienced by anyone that loves his work. Either stream it from YouTube, or download it at the link provided below in h265 (be sure to be running the latest version of a decent player like VLC).

So here you go, one of the best holiday specials ever made for those of us a little off that beaten path. Enjoy!

h265 link (Right Click, Save As)


The cinematographer of this project, Simon Higgins, was kind enough to write in (see below in the comments) and add to the available information about this wonderful project! Thanks!

I was the cinematographer on the claymation component of this project. You've done a pretty decent job of restoring it. Great to see it looking like the original after so many years.

It was shot on Bolex cameras colour standard 16mm Kodak film stock, aka (7298) 100ASA, in the late spring/summer of Sydney,Australia 1993. The production design was almost entirely monochrome and the remaining colour was removed in the film to tape (telecine).

It was mastered on PAL video, that's just 576 pixels tall at a 1.33:1 aspect ratio and I guess that's what probably got transferred to VHS and eventually to DVD. A 16mm film print was also struck from the PAL video master and it toured the world film festival circuit for quite a few years and was lucky enough to attract some critical acclaim.