Brion Gysin’s walk, 1966

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The Cut-Ups (1966).

More of the present preoccupation. Choosing Brion Gysin as a subject seems like a detour but the shots above are from Antony Balch’s 1966 film The Cut-Ups which also features William Burroughs, Ian Sommerville and someone-or-other’s cute boyfriend of the time who’s only ever credited as “Baby Zen”, a person about whom I know nothing at all.

I first saw The Cut-Ups in video form projected on the screens of the Haçienda nightclub in Manchester during their Final Academy evening in 1982, an event at which Burroughs and John Giorno both gave readings. The film on that occasion was mixed with some of the other Antony Balch shorts including Towers Open Fire, and together they made a strong (and bewildering) impression. The Cut-Ups, as noted a few days ago, may have inspired some of the flash edits in Performance, although Nicolas Roeg had been cinematographer on Petulia for Richard Lester the year before, a film which uses similar Resnais-like flashbacks and flash-forwards. In Balch’s film several sequences each a foot in length are cut together at random, a process which was a lot more radical in 1966 than it looks today. The opening sequence shows Brion Gysin walking out of a shop, along a street, down an alley and into the Rue Git le Coeur where the Beat Hotel was located at no. 9, and into whose door he disappears. I visited the street the last time I was in Paris, and took a few snaps whilst there, but it wasn’t until I rewatched The Cut-Ups a couple of years later that I realised I’d made the same walk as Gysin, having inadvertently discovered the narrow passage (the Rue de L’Hirondelle) which connects Git le Coeur with the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

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The corner of the Boulevard Saint-Michel where Gysin’s walk begins.

The route can be traced (after a fashion) using Google’s Street View where the photos have the usual drawbacks of being positioned high in the air and with a field-of-view which makes narrow spaces look a lot more cramped than they seem when you’re there. For those who can’t visit Paris, however, you at least get a sense of the Latin Quarter, even though the area is a lot more gentrified today than it was in 1966. The Beat Hotel, as I’ve noted before, is now the expensive Hotel du Vieux Paris whose website makes no mention of their establishment having once been cheap lodgings for depraved writers, artists and junkies. As for the Gysin film, I still wonder where he began his walk: was it at the Tabac Saint-Michel or elsewhere? You can judge for yourself at Ubuweb which has a copy of The Cut-Ups in its Burroughs film collection.

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Rue de L’Hirondelle from the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

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Rue de L’Hirondelle from Rue Git le Coeur.

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Rue Git le Coeur looking towards the Seine. The former Beat Hotel is down the street on the right.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Burroughs in Paris
William Burroughs interviews
Soft machines
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire