The Burroughs Version



In 1968 Antony Balch released an altered version of Witchcraft through the Ages. He added a Jazz score and a voice-over narration by William Burroughs. Its initial reception was quite controversial. Especially Stan Brakhage was very infuriated by it, calling it the “bastardized ‘English’ version”. He asked: “Why did Burroughs participate in this barbarous act? Suppose we begin to mess with his novels, I wonder how he’d feel about it…”
Jack Stevenson makes a point for the altered version by asking in turn: “Can’t a film be re-contextualized and re-interpreted? Must all art be fossilized in its original state? Is any alteration vandalism?”
I think we will have to reconsider the Burroughs/Balch version as not being mere exploitation, but as a venture which very intentionally applied ideas to film that bear relation to the Cut-Up Method.
“Take any poet or writer you fancy… The words have lost meaning and life through years of repetition… Fill a page with excerpts. Now cut the page. You have a new poem… As many Shakespeare Rimbaud poems as you like.” (William S. Burroughs, The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin)


5 Responses to “The Burroughs Version”

  1. 1 jahsonic

    Very interesting,

    I was immediately intrigued by the avant-garde jazz soundtrack you mentioned. I looked it up and it is by French Jean-Luc Ponty and Swiss Daniel Humair.

    The second thing I like about your post is the concept of the film-‘remix’. I’ve been meaning to write a post on this with regards to Kroger Babb’s remix of Bergman’s Summer with Monika and Radley Metzger’s shooting of additional footage for films he bought the rights to in Europe. But the ‘film remix’ is so much more: the process of panning in order to show films on tv, translation, dubbing etcetera, …

    One could argue that Balch’s version is not the same film as the original and that it would merit its own entry in IMDb.

    Thanks for this post

  2. Thanks for the Ponty/Humair information. I’m also intrigued by the film-remix concept and I’m looking forward to your post.
    I haven’t seen it yet, but I think Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart was the first attempt of its kind.


  3. 3 jahsonic

    Here is the Youtube version that does not include the ‘crocodiles’ scene.

  4. Marvelous, even in this shortened form.
    “When watching a film I inevitably perform an act of will on it, hence I transform it, and from its given elements make it my thing, draw snippets of knowledge from it and see better into myself… I could not begin to explain the reasons why since, contrary to Duchamp’s objects, I am not at all sure that these films, generally extremely bad ones, can have an objective value; or then I would have to work on them, make some changes in the montage, cut, accentuate, or tone down the soundtrack, finally interpret them before my subjective vision could be objectified.”
    Ado Kyrou

    By the way. Ado Kyrou directed some episodes of Dim Dam Dom though not this one. But one senses definitely his influence. Other director’s of this series were Eric Kahane (Girodias’ brother) and Jean Loup Sieff.

  5. 5 jahsonic


    Thanks for that link, loved what I saw, I made a post of our recent finds.


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