Black Lodge Image

Black Lodge

By Michael Talbot-Haynes | November 10, 2022

The hardcore patrons of literary narcotic operas finally have something to do at night with Black Lodge. Written by Anne Waldman and director Michael McQuilken, the experimental film is a dance-driven performance piece inspired by literary rebel and gentleman junkie William S. Burroughs. This was made to accompany the performance of the opera by the same name by David T. Little with libretto by poet Anne Waldman. The lead is played and sung by Timur Bekbosunov with music by his band Timur and the Dime Museum, a Los Angeles industrial glam outfit. 

It opens in a desolate basement, barely decorated with a black and white TV and a human sling hanging from the ceiling. A bespectacled man (Bekbosunov) is subjected to visions of a woman (Jennifer Harrison Newman) in a surgical outfit tying him to a gurney and cutting into him. Then the woman is a bartender in an ornate bar serving him a drink while undulating in waves of distortion.

The man then follows her through the woods. Ears and needles hang like icicles off tree limbs in the forests wandered through. Then the two are drinking whiskey in a tiny room. The man decides it is time for them to do their William Tell routine. The drunken woman balances a drinking glass on her head and stands still. The man pulls out a revolver to shoot the glass off her head. He misses.

“The man pulls out a revolver to shoot the glass off her head. He misses.”

Black Lodge is not for everybody, not even close. However, the folks who are drawn by the Burroughs and Artaud references will also enjoy opera sung to metallic gothic music. They are out there. I used to be one when I went to college in New York. You can imagine them in the theater as a row in black with Re/Search books in their laps. The crowd this was made for will eat it up with a blackened spoon.

Along with the opera, we have dancer Harrison Newman’s fantastic choreography. Her modern dance contribution adds to the crucial variety of tones. We are never subjected to one flavor for too long. Even with the recurring motifs, there is enough difference and dilution to keep things lively. Not bad for something mostly shot in location in Lewiston, Maine. Not much is lively in Maine. That is why I left. The pace of that state’s life in the slow lane would make me shoot a glass off my own head.

One doesn’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of Burroughs to get the context. You don’t even need to have read any of his books, which seem a lot more fun than it is sometimes. If you have seen Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, you will be hip to what Black Lodge is up to. It is interesting that the focus of the opera isn’t the writing or the drugs but instead the fatal accident involving the man’s wife. While one may question the relevancy of personal scandal to artistic output, it is not without precedent. When artists like Abel Ferrera and Kathy Acker did work on Pier Palo Pasolini, they approached it not based on Pasolini’s films but his murder at the hands of street prostitutes.

It is legitimate to ruminate on how the killing shaped Burroughs as an artist. Just like Burroughs wouldn’t have been him without the heroin, his wife’s death seems to be an integral part of his presence. Once again, this s**t isn’t for everybody. However, if the Black Lodge sounds like a place you’d like to stay a spell, chances are it is.

Black Lodge (2022)

Directed: Michael McQuilken

Written: Michael McQuilken, Anne Waldman

Starring: Timur Bekbosunov, Jennifer Harrison Newman, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

Black Lodge Image

"…there is enough difference and dilution to keep things lively."

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