When I’m asked about successful literary adaptations, Cronenberg’s 1991 hallucinogenic fantasy starring Peter Weller and Judy Davis is high on the list. Here’s a bit of the conversation between icons Cronenberg and Waters:
JOHN WATERS: Remember when we got to say, how did they ever make a movie out of Lolita? Well, I think with Naked Lunch you did a wonderful job, so how was Burroughs with you?
DAVID CRONENBERG:Burroughs was great. His public persona was very intimidating, and he was very sort of plastic and cynical, and kind of mean. But on personal time, he was really quite sweet, and very generous. He loved the concept. He loved the script that I had written. I did submit it to him but said, really, I don’t think I can make this movie just from your book. I don’t know if you’ve read the Naked Lunch, but it’s a difficult one to think of as a movie.
I said, I feel I need to incorporate a lot of stuff from your actual life…I understand if you don’t want me to, and in particular, I was talking to the fact that he shot his wife, which was a crucial moment, of course, in his life, but also as a writer. He said, I don’t separate my life and my art, and you can just go ahead….
JW: Did you do drugs with him?
DC: No. Actually, at that time I think he was just doing methadone.
JW: Oh, methadone. Got it. I smoked pot with him. Did you go to the bunker, or –
JC:: I didn’t, but I did go to Tangier with him.
JW:: Oh, wow.
DC: And met Paul Bowles, whom he hadn’t seen for seventeen years. I sat right down with the two of them, the authors of Naked Lunch and The Sheltering Sky, so there is a connection. [He looks out into the audience and sees Debra Winger, who starred in Bernardo Bertolucci’s film adaptation of Bowles’ classic novel set in North Africa.] Bizarre, but it is there.