May 25, 2024


and the people who made it

Brion Gysin

Bryon Gysin created the cut-up technique. What is a cut-up? It’s a way of taking pictures, a text, or film and randomizing it by cutting it up and rearranging it – and thus making new meaning out of it. This method was used in painting by the surrealists, but Brion Gysin was the groundbreaker who applied it to text. William Burroughs and his collaborator Antony Balach made a film called “The Cut-Ups” which both Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg saw. It influenced the making of Performance.

According to Paul Buck’s Performance Book:

  • Brion Gysin saw Cammell in Paris often. He probably explained the cut up techniques and might well have suggested that Donald See [Antony] Balach in London, just knock on his door. Balach lived in the same house as Burroughs at 22 Duke Street, St James for some years. If Donald had visited, Balach would have shown him the films in the screening room he’d set up. Roeg saw “The Cut Ups” at the Oxford Street run, rather than at any private showing.
  • Burroughs’ presence in London had a much greater influence on counter-culture at the time than on literature because he was doing interviews and writing for International Times and the underground press, and films such as Towers Open Fire and The Cut Ups were being shown at UFO and various underground events.

Jeff Burger, in “Led Zeppelin on Led Zeppelin” quotes William Burroughs having the following conversation with Jimmy Page. Burroughs says:

  • “We talked about the film Performance and the use of cut-up techniques in this film. Now the cut-up method was applied to writing by Brion Gysin in 1959; he said that writing was fifty years behind painting, and applied the montage method to writing. Actually, montage is much closer to the facts of perception than representational painting. If, for example, you walked through Times Square, nd then put on canvas what you had seen, the result would be a montage…half a person cut in tow by a car, reflections from shop windows, fragments of street signs. Antony Balach and I collaborated on a film called Cut-Ups, in which the film was cut into segments and rearranged at random. Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell saw a screening of the fim not long before they made Performance.