Chris Okum

William S. Burroughs, holding a cigarette in one hand and a gun in the other, sits in a chair in front of a water-stained concrete wall while Andrea Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Horst Mahler and Ulrike Meinhof – the founders of the Red Army Faction – form a line to his left, bend over, pull down their pants, and moon the camera, which is being wielded by American photographer Gary Krueger, who has been flown into West Berlin by the urban guerrillas for the expressed purpose of capturing this historic meeting: “While Burroughs was mildly disappointed that his role in Three Days of the Condorwas cut out of the script before the beginning of principal photography (Burroughs had been cast by Sydney Pollack to play the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, but due to budgetary constraints [and, some have claimed, a late-night phone call from the DCI at the time, William Colby, to Paramount Pictures President Frank Yablans, in which Colby voiced his concerns – Colby: ‘Is the film a satire, Frank?’ Yablans: ‘To be honest with you, Bill, I don’t really know.’ Colby: ‘Have you read the script?’ Yablans: ‘Well, again, to be honest with you, Bill, I don’t think I have.’ Colby: ‘Well, I have.’ Yablans: ‘And?’ Colby: ‘It’s not a satire, Frank.’ Yablans: ‘That’s good, no?’ Colby: ‘No.’ Yablans: ‘No?’ Colby: ‘No.’ Yablans: ‘How come?’ Colby: ‘Because if it was a satire then I would understand why you would have someone like Burroughs in it. That makes sense. But since it’s not a satire, it doesn’t make any sense to have someone like Burroughs in it. And that’s what worries me. That it doesn’t make any sense.’ Yablans: ‘Well, and I’m not just saying this to say it, Bill, but to be honest with you, now that you’ve brought this to my attention, it worries me too.’ – about a degenerate junkie pornographer like Burroughs being asked to play the role] two long and overly expository scenes Burroughs shared with Cliff Robertson had to be excised from the script) he was also relieved, because he feared that speaking in the character’s bureaucratic flim-flam for multiple takes would infect his relationship to language, and, as such, his relationship to himself. At this stage in his life there was nothing Burroughs was more afraid of then coming into contact with his shadow self (and he knew, in his heart of of hearts, that being Head of Central Intelligence was his true shadow self, the person he would have become had life not conspired against him [and had he not, like every other sad son of a bitch on the planet, been raped by progress]), because he felt that as he advanced in age his grip on the persona he had unmethodically concocted for himself was becoming more and more tenuous. It wouldn’t have surprised him at all if one morning he woke up to find that during the middle of the night he had evacuated himself completely, creating a vacuum for God knows what to enter and set up shop.”


Chris Okum lives in Los Angeles.

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