Drugstore Cowboy

A Film by Gus Van Sant
Released 1989

This film was a lot of fun. It's a portrait of a grouchy young speed freak (Matt Dillon) and his gang of three. His wife (Kelly Lynch) is even more attached to dope than he is, and the other young man and woman are enthusiastic but not very savvy. The film moves quickly and captures effectively the chaotic pace of young people who choose the criminal lifestyle. By the end one character has sought redemption, one is no longer around, and two have begun sleeping together. That's all I'll give away.

William S. Burroughs shows up towards the end as an old drug-addicted priest who knows more about dope than anybody else in Portland. He's wonderful in this role; he plays himself, basically, so it's mustn't have been very hard for him. He talks in a slow heavy midwestern drawl and the comical effect of this thin old man with his hat and cane and dead-fish gaze is wonderful. It's easy to see why his public readings in the Sixties and Seventies were such a hit.

Gus Van Sant went on to direct 'My Own Private Idaho' and 'Even Cowgirls Get the Blues', the former titled after a B-52's song, the latter adapted from the Tom Robbins novel. I've heard Burroughs is in 'Cowgirls' too (I didn't see it).

Other Beat-related films

Literary Kicks
by Levi Asher