Paul Bowles was an enigmatic ex-patriot writer who lived for most of the 20th century. Known primarily for writing 'The Sheltering Sky' he was a man of both literary and musical talents who left America for the exotic environs of Morocco in the 1930's and stayed.
Paul Bowles: Let it Come Down by Jennifer Baichwal is really an extended interview with Bowles in the last years of his life. One was done in his home in Tangier in 1994, another during his brief visit to New York in 1995 and a final interview in 1996 again in Tangier.
Baichwal's converses with Bowles rather than probe him for information about his life. And it works well; Bowles comes across as articulate yet eccentric and quiet yet opinionated. Throughout the film he has a lot of intellectual integrity and interesting insights on everything from life to love to literature. He also has a frank fatalistic view of life and is often reflective, which most likely was because he was at the end of his life.
Shot on video the documentary combines sound clips of the Bowles interviews with older footage and photographs of Bowles and the many writer friends whom he spent time with including the Beat writers William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg as well as Gertrude Stein, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and his wife Jane Bowles.
The documentary doesn't dig any dirt on Bowles although it does include interviews with friends, colleagues and scholars who discuss some of the things Bowles doesn't talk much about; including Bowles homosexuality and complex relationship he had with his wife – who also was gay. There is also a little bit about his novel 'The Sheltering Sky', which many consider to be autobiographical.
Burroughs and Ginsberg are also included in the 1995 interview, which makes for an interesting trio of writers and like minds. At one point they talk about taking drugs back in the 1940's when it was considered taboo.
Overall this is a good introduction to Paul Bowles and should be appreciated by fans of his work. If you are unaware of him it may not have as much appeal but may pique your curiosity.
The entire documentary is shot in video and looks good. The DVD box has a quote that says it is 'stunningly photographed' but most of the footage consists of close-ups and dark interiors. Bowles lived in Morocco where there are certainly beautiful desert locales but we rarely see them in the documentary. The documentary instead has a flat video look that gives it a home movie quality.
Most of the film consists of talking heads, voice-overs and interviews and it all sounds good. There are some limitations with the production and Bowles tends to mumble occasionally but the quality of the audio on the DVD is good.
The only significant extras are additional interviews with Bowles that didn't make the final cut. There are five Interview extras each of which last between 3 and 6 minutes. Three of them are with Bowles alone, one is with Bowles and Burroughs and Ginsberg and the last one is an amusing one with William Burroughs playing the drums. There is also a very good Making-of Essay and some Filmmaker Bios.
This documentary is a very good introduction to writer / composer Paul Bowles. The DVD has a fair amount of extras and looks and sounds good.