Lost & Found: Gus Van Sant and William S. Burroughs
Before Gus Van Sant gave us ‘Drugstore Cowboy’ and ‘Good Will Hunting,’ he directed a little black-and-white film called ‘The Discipline of D.E.’ This short is basically a visual representation of an essay of the same name, written by William S. Burroughs. The film looks and sounds like one of those old educational videos your first-grade teacher put on when she was too hung over to teach.
Instead of Burroughs’ nonlinear style (made famous in ‘Naked Lunch’), ‘The Discipline of D.E.’ is a straightforward essay on how to most efficiently and effectively interact with the world on a day-to-day basis. Burroughs, or course, can’t help but drift off into the odd bit of prose now and then, but it is artfully hidden between the folds of dry descriptions, like that of an old colonel’s solitary life.
Perhaps the best line comes when the narrator explains how to take hold of an object: “Don’t fumble, jerk, grab an object. Drop cool, possessive fingers onto it like a gentle, old cop making a soft arrest.” A soft arrest, indeed. It all makes so much sense now.
And, of course, there’s the story of Wyatt Earp passing along advice to a young man. The young man incurred the wrath of Two-Gun McGee — who was totally a real person and not made up at all — and was scared of the upcoming gunfight. Earp, who, according to Burroughs, was the only Wild West gunslinger who understood Do Easy, said, “How fast can you take your time, kid?” Thanks to his cryptic words, the young man took McGee down with little trouble.
And that’s what we all need — a way to kill all of our personal McGees.