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Jan Herman

Jan Herman

Posted: April 13, 2010 03:03 PM

Bill & Tony With a Twist

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This video experiment, first posted by, was recorded on Dec. 21, 1971, as I wrote there, in William S. Burroughs' London flat at 8 Duke St. The filmmaker Antony Balch, who lived downstairs, brought his movie projector up to the flat, along with the unfinished footage of Bill & Tony, a movie he'd been working on. Burroughs sat in front of the movie projector. He looked remarkably like Buster Keaton, his stare so blank and deadpan he could have been a mummy. We turned off the lights.

Balch ran the footage through the projector, superimposing the image on Burroughs' face. I ran the video camera. It was an Akai portable reel-to-reel video recorder that used 1/4″ black & white tape. The video is purposely not edited, to give the actual context of the experiment.

In an interview in Rolling Stone, in May 1972, Burroughs called the video "quite a precise experiment," noting that the film projection "re-photographed on the video camera ... faded in and out ... so that you got a real-time section." In other words, what was actual and what was superimposed. Although the experiment was precise, it was also rudimentary. And after 34 years in storage, the videotape has degraded and now looks primitive.

But it still gives the fantastic impression of a ventriloquist dummy coming to life or an ancient Egyptian mummy being revived to cheer the river gods. I think Burroughs got a kick out of that and the demonstration of how easy it was, even with primitive means, to create a televised witch's brew of, say, Nixon's face superimposed on Mao's, speaking with the voice of Hitler or Stalin, or even FDR. Of course, any combination can be applied.

What you will see, following the setup, are four combinations of images, in this order:

♦ Bill's face superimposed on his own, speaking with Bill's voice
♦ Tony's face superimposed on Bill's, speaking with Tony's voice
♦ Bill's face superimposed on his own, speaking with Tony's voice
♦ Tony's face superimposed on Bill's, speaking with Bill's voice