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No other director has a body of work quite like that of David Cronenberg, whom we’re celebrating today on his sixty-ninth birthday. But then, no other work seems so focused on the body—what can happen to it, what can come out of it, what can go into it. That Cronenberg is such a cerebral filmmaker makes his corporeal focus all the more compelling. That combo made William S. Burroughs’s heady and squishy Naked Lunch a perfect project for him. To realize a cinematic version of Burroughs’s nonlinear, seemingly untranslatable novel about drug addiction, Cronenberg created physical manifestations of some of the writer’s abstract ideas—like the enormous bug that the film’s exterminator protagonist Bill Lee (Peter Weller) encounters in this scene.
Naked Lunch was the culmination of Cronenberg’s lifelong fascination with William S. Burroughs. That is just one of the many topics he touches on in the following conversation about his career with Museum of the Moving Image chief curator David Schwartz from 1992, not long after the release of Naked Lunch.