Paging Doctor Benway


Roy Scheider as Dr A. Benway in Naked Lunch (1991).

1: Naked Lunch (1959) by William Burroughs

So I am assigned to engage the services of Doctor Benway for Islam Inc.

Dr. Benway had been called in as advisor to the Freeland Republic, a place given over to free love and continual bathing. The citizens are well adjusted, cooperative, honest, tolerant and above all clean. But the invoking of Benway indicates all is not well behind that hygienic facade: Benway is a manipulator and coordinator of symbol systems, an expert on all phases of interrogation, brainwashing and control. I have not seen Benway since his precipitate departure from Annexia, where his assignment had been T.D.—Total Demoralization. Benway’s first act was to abolish concentration camps, mass arrest and, except under certain limited and special circumstances, the use of torture.

“I deplore brutality,” he said. “It’s not efficient. On the other hand, prolonged mistreatment, short of physical violence, gives rise, when skillfully applied, to anxiety and a feeling of special guilt. A few rules or rather guiding principles are to be borne in mind. The subject must not realize that the mistreatment is a deliberate attack of an anti-human enemy on his personal identity. He must be made to feel that he deserves any treatment he receives because there is something (never specified) horribly wrong with him. The naked need of the control addicts must be decently covered by an arbitrary and intricate bureaucracy so that the subject cannot contact his enemy direct.”

2: Doctor Benway Operates (1983)


A short sequence from Howard Brookner’s Burroughs: The Movie. Burroughs himself takes the role of the notorious doctor in a staging of the operation scene from Naked Lunch.

3: Repo Man (1984)


Alex Cox’s feature film includes a hospital scene in which a Doctor Benway and a Mr Lee are paged over the PA. As I recall, Mr Lee is requested to “return the drugs”. There’s apparently a similar scene in Dark City (1998) but if so this must be in the director’s cut which I’ve yet to see.

4: Nomads (1986)


I’ve not seen John McTiernan’s thriller but it contains another instance of a Doctor Benway being paged at a hospital. (Thanks, Márcio!)

5: Naked Lunch (1991)


David Cronenberg’s film shows the address of Benway’s surgery to be in Mott Street, New York. This happens to be in the Chinatown area of the city, and is also the location of the Genco Olive Oil Company in The Godfather: Part II.

6: Standards (2001) by Tortoise


Track 4: Benway.

7: Autopsy (2008)


Adam Gierasch’s horror film has Robert Patrick playing a Doctor Benway. With a title like that it seems almost inevitable.

8: Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)


Near the beginning of Panos Cosmatos’s feature film Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) is seen consuming a quantity of unspecified pills. A brief shot shows the origin of the drugs. Some of the experiments taking place in the Arboria Institute where Nyle works aren’t far removed from either Cronenberg’s or Burroughs’ fictions.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The William Burroughs archive

Spiderweb, a film by Paul Miller


The Spider’s Stratagem (1970) is Bernardo Bertolucci’s adaptation of the Jorge Luis Borges story The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero; Death and the Compass (1992) is Alex Cox’s adaptation of the story Death and the Compass by the same author; Spiderweb (1977) is an earlier adaptation of Death and the Compass which is both shorter than Cox’s film, and also a more successful Borgesian drama.

Borges’ story plays Kabbalistic games with the familiar shapes of detective fiction, creating its frisson in the tension between an elaborate murder mystery and the intellectual puzzle which leads to its solution. In Cox’s extended version this is presented in an overbearing style reminiscent of Terry Gilliam at his most exasperating; despite a decent cast it’s also rather poorly directed in places. By contrast, Paul Miller’s adaptation runs for 30 minutes and conveys the story very smartly and efficiently. The setting is “Borghesia” rather than Argentina but the general style is that of a Hollywood detective story, American accents and all. The always reliable Nigel Hawthorne plays the cerebral detective Erik Lönnrot. Considering this was a graduation film it’s an excellent piece of work which the director himself has made available on YouTube. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Library of Babel by Érik Desmazières
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

Weekend links: New Year edition


Flower Me Gently (2010) by Linn Olofsdotter.

• “Many of Moorcock’s editorials are published here, and they still make exhilarating reading. Then, as now, Moorcock set his face against a besetting English sin: a snobbish parochial weariness, an ironic superiority to the frightful oiks who have started filling up the streets. You can almost hear, behind the languorous flutter of the pages, Sir Whatsits sniggering to Lady Doo-Dah. It still goes on, and it’s usually the same flummery in different clothes. Moorcock not only would not go to the party: he threw the literary equivalent of explosive devices into the Hampstead living rooms.” Michael Moorcock’s Into the Media Web reviewed. And also here.

• “Beefheart channeled a secret history of America, the underbelly of a continent and a culture that has now all but vanished along with one of its greatest poets.” Jon Savage on the life and work of the late Captain.

Miniatures Blog, in which musician Morgan Fisher works his way through each of the fifty one-minute tracks on his extraordinary Miniatures compilation album, with details and anecdotes about the artists and the recording of each piece.

Look at Life: IN gear (1967). A Rank Organisation newsreel about Swinging London. Sardonic commentary and some great colour photography showing how the often shabby reality differs from the caricature. Many of the shots are familiar from documentaries about the era but this is the first time I’ve seen them all in one place.


Predator (Self-portrait) by Linn Olofsdotter.

Lewis Carroll’s new story: The Guardian‘s review of Through the Looking-Glass from December, 1871. Related: My Through the Psychedelic Looking-Glass 2011 calendar is now reduced in price.

The United Kingdom and Ireland as seen from the International Space Station, December, 2010. Related: Spacelog, the stories of early space exploration from the original NASA transcripts.

The “Big Basket” Fraud, 1958: “…there seems to be a limited segment with a one-track mind interested in seeing an exaggerated masculine appendage.”

• “Ancient arena of discord”: a billboard for King’s Cross by Jonathan Barnbrook. Related: Vale Royal by Aidan Andrew Dun.

• The inevitable Ghost Box link, Jim Jupp is interviewed at Cardboard Cutout Sundown.

• Amazon is still playing the random moral guardian at the Kindle store.

Antwerpian Expressionists at A Journey Round My Skull.

Salami CD and vacuum packaging by Mother Eleganza.

Paris 1900: L’Architecture Art Nouveau à Paris.

Bill Sienkiewicz speaks about Big Numbers #3.

Philippe Druillet illustrates Dracula, 1968.

Aesthetic Peacocks at the V&A.

Well Did You Evah! (1990), Deborah Harry & Iggy Pop directed by Alex Cox.


cockfighter.jpgCockfighter is a film by Monte Hellman from American cinema’s great decade (the Seventies) that we’re not allowed to see in this country because it contains cruelty to chickens. This week the Edinburgh International Film Festival halted a planned screening after being informed it contravened a 1937 law:

Change to Programmed Performance: Cockfighter

Mon 21 Aug 2006

Due to interesting circumstances we are unable to screen COCKFIGHTER (70’s retrospective) on TUESDAY 22 August.

This will be replaced by Monte Hellman’s TWO LANE BLACKTOP (1971) in a spanking new preservation print. Huge thanks to Universal for giving us this and to the BFI for help in sourcing it.

COCKFIGHTER contains scenes which contravene the CINEMATOGRAPHIC FILMS(Animals) ACT 1937 whereby it is a criminal offence to screen the film to the public (whether they pay or not).

We apologise for the disappointment this may cause. The film was never certificated in the UK because it was impossible to deliver a cut that would not contravene the Act.

We were unaware of this combination of circumstances when we programmed the film.

We’re not chicken; it’s the cinema license holder who would prosecuted and as that isn’t me, I’d prefer to take the prudent route.

Ginnie Atkinson, Managing Director, EIFF

Monte Hellman is a serious director and the film has been lauded by other directors and critics such as Alex Cox who praise Hellman’s direction and Warren Oates’ performance. The screenplay was by Charles Willeford based on his novel and the film also features Harry Dean Stanton who was in Hellman’s earlier Two Lane Blacktop.

While I’m not desperate to see chickens pecking and clawing themselves to death, I’d prefer to be allowed a choice of whether I can or not. For some reason odd films like this get singled out yet other films of the period that contain images of violence to animals get by. Offhand I can think of the shooting and slaughter of a buffalo in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, chickens having their heads shot off in Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and the slow-motion slaughter of a caribou in Apocalypse Now. The Guardian says:

A BBFC spokesman said that The [Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937] made it illegal to show any scene which was organised or directed for the purpose of the film involving cruelty to animals. The Act was originally introduced following complaints that horses were deliberately made to fall in Hollywood westerns.

This seems inconsistent given that the Peckinpah film certainly had chickens killed for the purposes of that scene. Maybe it’s not counted as cruelty if you blow off their heads rather than let them attack each other? I wonder how many of the people who’ve enforced this rule over the years have been chicken eaters? Anyway, this nonsense aside, Anchor Bay has had the film available on DVD for a while and Willeford’s novel is also in print.