When the documentary film Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider was released in 1993, it received accolades from critics across the board, who described the film as “absorbing,” “amazing,” “tantalizing,” “intimate” and “irresistible.” A Washington Post critic wrote, “A fabulous film! You want to see it over and over again!”
Regina Weinreich, who co-produced and co-directed the film with Catherine Hiller Warnow, has lived part time in Montauk for more than 20 years. She met Paul Bowles in Morocco in 1983 when The School of Visual Arts invited her to teach with him in a summer program. Realizing that this world-class writer lived in Tangier, the school offered a creative writing workshop along with their classes in fine arts, photography and graphic design. “Paul, however, did not teach. So that is where I came in. I had just completed a PhD degree in American literature. We taught the class together,” Weinreich said.
“In the U.S., at the time, Bowles was not well known, even though he had had a distinguished career as a composer, working with Tennessee Williams and Lillian Hellman. When I returned to New York, we began a correspondence. One day, after receiving a letter from him, I began to think about how to bring his work to an American audience.”
Some of the greatest writers and artists of the 20th century encountered Bowles, among them, Aaron Copland, Gertrude Stein, W.H. Auden, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Truman Capote.
A rare opportunity will be afforded on Sunday, May 29, at Guild Hall in East Hampton at 4 p.m. to see a screening of Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider, with an introduction to the film by Weinreich and Warnow and a question-and-answer session after the screening. (Tickets cost $12, $10 for members.)
As an icon to the Beat Generation, Bowles’ writing and life have influenced everyone from William Burroughs (whose Naked Lunch was inspired by Bowles), to David Cronenberg’s film of the same name, to Bernardo Bertolucci, whose film adaptation of The Sheltering Sky was a critical and popular hit.
Weinrich, who is a scholar of the Beat Generation, approached Warner, a novelist she had met when they both taught at Brooklyn College, about the possibility of making a film about Bowles. Both women had worked in film previously, she said, so they “applied for a grant that week. We did not get it, but that started us off on the project.”
Filmed in Morocco and featuring exclusive interviews with cultural icons such as Allen Ginsberg, the film explores the esoteric life of the man who wrote the The Sheltering Sky, one of the most provocative and influential novels of the 20th century, which was later adapted to film by Bernardo Bertolucci.
When asked what most surprised her about Bowles, Weinrich said, “He was full of contradictions. He was well known for his travel writing. Yet, during the time I taught with him, when I would say I wanted to visit Fez or other Moroccan cities, he would caution me against it. ‘Why do you want to go?’ he would ask. ‘You’ll catch a cold.’ He was like a fussy parent. He claimed not to want to be interviewed, but people would show up at his doorstep daily unannounced, and he would usher them in to his salon and answer all questions. I think he would have been devastated had people stopped coming.”
Bowles was married to fellow author Jane Bowles, and both had numerous homosexual affairs. In the film, Bowles speaks candidly about his evolution as a writer and composer, but also about his complicate personal life. The film includes archival footage, photos and interviews with those who knew him.
Weinreich said that “the film had a profound effect on me, in one way; it made me think of
filmmaking as something I could do. My relationship with Paul changed after making the film. He first saw it in Atlanta, Georgia, at a private screening with many of his friends assembled for a birthday celebration. He thanked me for making sense of his life, but I always felt he kept his true feelings close to the vest.” She said that Debra Winger had the same experience with Bowles when Bernardo Bertolucci made the The Sheltering Sky.
Weinriech, who is the author of The Beat Generation: An American Dream and Kerouac’s Spontaneous Poetics, continues to write about Kerouac and Burroughs. As a cultural critic she publishes on The Huffington Post and her blog gossipcentral. She is also working on a memoir.
More information and tickets are available online at guildhall.org.[/expand]