A “three-hour science fiction experimental masterpiece,” according to the Indiana University Cinema docent.  “A Burroughsian interpretation of Burroughs” as opposed to NAKED LUNCH (as a less Burroughsian interpretation, though still a “masterpiece”).  He went on to say the film NOVA EXPRESS existed as a kind of rumor from the late 1990s, also that Perkowski had said, when he first read NOVA EXPRESS, that he didn’t understand it at all — but that the idea had been planted that later, ultimately, became what we would see.  He would look forward to a Criterion edition with the second disk with the other 75 some hours Perkowski put together but didn’t use.  But (for tonight at least) “three hours is enough.”

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An exhaustive examination of cut-ups, the control machine, and the algebra of need figure in this epic found-footage adaptation of Burroughs’s 1964 novel, which pits Inspector Lee and the Nova Police against the Nova Mob:  Sammy The Butcher, Green Tony, The Brown Artist, Jacky Blue Note, Izzy The Push, The Subliminal Kid, Uranian Willy, and Mr Bradly Mr Martin, alias The Ugly Spirit.  Features unreleased readings by Burroughs and voiceovers by Proctor & Bergman of the Firesign Theatre on such topics as hot crab people, language as virus, tape recorder warfare, death dwarfs, and Hassan Sabbah:  the Old Man of the Mountain.  “Minutes to go.  Souls rotten from their orgasm drugs, flesh shuddering from their nova ovens, prisoners of the earth to come out.”   “Like the radical science fiction novel on which it is based, the film cuts-up, remixes, incorporates and detours through social satire, science fiction, film noir, and the image archive of the twentieth-century to create a visual counterpart to the soundtrack voices of William Burroughs and others.  Combining found footage, original film, animation and collages the film is a Burroughsmammoth, visionary work that has screened in various forms (some versions lasting three-hours) offering a truly cinematic realisation of Burroughs’ world.  This screening is essential for anyone interested in Burroughs, radical cinema, and storming the reality studio.” –Jack Sargeant   “As the film reaches its climax, Perkowski’s images become less literal and more visionary, intensifying into hallucinatory, stroboscopic collages. Its ‘Final Words’ (in fact the first words of the book), written half a century ago, are apocalyptic and all too timely: ‘Listen all you boards syndicates and governments of the earth. And you powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatory to take what is not yours. To sell the ground from unborn feet forever … Show your cards all players …These words might be too late.’” –The Boston Globe (HD Presentation)  

(IU CINEMA:  Nova Express film — program notes)

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This is the kind of film that grows on you.  It’s weird, almost beautiful in places, perhaps ploddy in others.  It’s cut and paste, repetitions, stock pictures sometimes from other films, sometimes brilliantly used.  It reminded me to some extent (though in a different way) to the final third of TALES OF POE described late last month (see September 28), as well as, again in a very different way, THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER (see July 17).  From my own notes:  “Images and sounds that flow one into another.  A moving collage.”

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NOVA EXPRESS is a 1964 novel by William S. Burroughs.  It was written using the ‘fold-in’ method, a version of the cut-up method, developed by Burroughs with Brion Gysin, of enfolding snippets of different texts into the novel. It is part of The Nova Trilogy, or “Cut-Up Trilogy,’ together with THE SOFT MACHINE and THE TICKET THAT EXPLODED.  Burroughs considered the trilogy a “sequel” or “mathematical” continuation of NAKED LUNCH.  […]

Interpretation
NOVA EXPRESS is a social commentary on human and machine control of life.  The Nova Mob — Sammy the Butcher, Izzy the Push, The Subliminal Kid, and others — are viruses, “defined as the three-dimensional coordinate point of a controller.” “which invade the human body and in the process produce language.”  These Nova Criminals represent society, culture, and government, and have taken control. Inspector Lee and the rest of the Nova Police are left fighting for the rest of humanity in the power struggle.  “The Nova Police can be compared to apomorphine, a regulating instance that need not continue and has no intention of continuing after its work is done.”  The police are focused on “first-order addictions of junkies, homosexuals, dissidents, and criminals; if these criminals vanish, the police must create more in order to justify their own survival.”   The Nova Police depend upon the Nova Criminals for existence; if the criminals cease to exist, so do the police.  “They act like apomorphine, the nonaddictive cure for morphine addiction that Burroughs used and then promoted for many years.”

Control is the main theme of the novel, and Burroughs attempts to use language to break down the walls of culture, the biggest control machine.  He uses inspector Lee to express his own thoughts about the world.  “The purpose of my writing is to expose and arrest Nova Criminals. In NAKED LUNCH, SOFT MACHINE and NOVA EXPRESS I show who they are and what they are doing and what they will do if they are not arrested. […] With your help we can occupy The Reality Studio and retake their universe of Fear Death and Monopoly.”  As Burroughs battles with the self and what is human, he finds that language is the only way to maintain dominance over the “powerful instruments of control,” which are the most prevalent enemies of human society.

(WIKIPEDIA, NOVA EXPRESS — The Novel)

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