Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles (1998)

Genres - History  |   Sub-Genres - Biography  |   Release Date - Apr 28, 1999 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 75 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Expatriate American writer Paul Bowles came to the limelight with an adaptation to screen by Bernardo Bertolucci of his first novel The Sheltering Sky. Subsequently, ambitious documentarists from several countries went down to Tangiers, Morocco where Bowles has been living for more than 50 years to capture the last days of an aging artist and composer, who played an important role in shaping the artistic trends of the 20th century along with other celebrities such as Allen Ginsberg, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and William S. Burroughs. In this definitive film biography which took director Jennifer Baichwal more than four years to complete, the 87-year-old Bowles reflects on his life, work and friends while lying in bed at his home in Tangier smoking kif (cannabis) from an elegant black cigarette holder. Although his monologue serves as the structure of the film, director Baichwal cuts to archival footage of North Africa in the 1930s and 1940s to set the mood and uses the comments of late William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and David Herbert on Bowles and his work to counterbalance what Bowles says about the same issues. Moroccan writer Mohammed Choukri's harsh analysis of the expatriate scene in Morocco before Independence provides another perspective. One of the highlights of the film is the exclusive footage of the last meeting of Bowles, Burroughs and Ginsberg in 1995 in a Manhattan hotel room in New York before the latter two passed away. This was Bowles's first visit to the U.S. in 33 years at the invitation of The EO Orchestra, which performed two sold-out performances of his music at the Lincoln Center. Let It Come Down is compact and well balanced. It avoids being voyeuristic, which is not easy to do considering the iconoclastic nature of its subject. Whether it brings the viewer closer to the enigmatic artist is arguable, simply because as Burroughs says of Bowles' autobiography, he might look like he's saying a lot about himself, but in fact, "he says nothing."



Africa, career, life, writer