Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider

  • 1994
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

This straightforward, if uninspired, documentary covers Paul Bowles's lengthy, multifaceted career as expatriate poet, novelist, and composer. A serviceable primer for the uninitiated, the film features a rare interview with the elusive author. Bowles's story is told through interviews with many of his contemporaries, including composer Ned Rorem and...read more

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This straightforward, if uninspired, documentary covers Paul Bowles's lengthy, multifaceted career as expatriate poet, novelist, and composer. A serviceable primer for the uninitiated, the film features a rare interview with the elusive author.

Bowles's story is told through interviews with many of his contemporaries, including composer Ned Rorem and poets Allen Ginsberg and Charles Henri Ford. They relate how Bowles, as a teenage poet in the 1920s, ran away from his New York home to meet Gertrude Stein in Paris. When he returned to

New York, he became the protege of Aaron Copland and Virgil Thompson, and began composing music. As a young man, Bowles scored plays for Tennessee Williams, Orson Welles, and Lillian Hellman.

Although gay, Bowles married writer Jane Auer, a lesbian. After the couple moved to Morocco in the 1940s, Bowles abandoned music and became a novelist. Their marriage disintegrated as Bowles became an increasingly successful writer and Auer became sickly and alcoholic (she died in 1973).

Meanwhile, kif (a variety of marijuana) influenced Bowles' work, and he became the forefather of the "beat generation" writers. Bowles, 84, was still living in Morocco as of the film's release.

PAUL BOWLES: THE COMPLETE OUTSIDER is a practical but conventional "talking head" documentary, offering satisfactory coverage of its subject's personal and professional life. Arguably, however, Bowles's eccentric art deserves more than this--a less traditional approach might better have captured

the mysterious, modernist quality of his written work, which was memorably rendered in Bernardo Bertolucci's adaptation of Bowles' best-known story, THE SHELTERING SKY. Still, Catherine Warnow and Regina Weinreich have thoroughly examined the Bowles's legacy, and it's good to see Bowles himself,

upbeat and personable, caught on film. The other interview subjects are effectively used (especially Allen Ginsberg, who almost steals the show with his riff on kif), as are still photos by Cecil Beaton and Irving Penn, readings by Bowles and Brian Woolfenden of Bowles's work, footage of Morocco

through the years, and an excerpt from Hans Richter's surrealist classic, 8 X 8, in which Bowles appeared. More of Bowles' musical compositions, however, would have been welcome.

Thankfully, the author's unconventional sex life is treated without sensationalism. The story of Jane Auer Bowles, however, is narrowly presented: Zarifa, her supposedly "demonic" lover, is blamed for her problems, and one gets no sense of what her work was like--just that she was jealous of her

husband's success. But this is his story, after all; Jane's equally interesting tale will have to wait for another documentary. (Adult situations, substance abuse.)

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  • Released: 1994
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This straightforward, if uninspired, documentary covers Paul Bowles's lengthy, multifaceted career as expatriate poet, novelist, and composer. A serviceable primer for the uninitiated, the film features a rare interview with the elusive author. Bowles's… (more)

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