Today’s adventure in obscure video centers around an innocuous 85-second film shot by Antony Balch called William Buys a Parrot. In the movie, the “William” is William S. Burroughs and the parrot is actually a cockatoo. It’s in color and has no audio track—it resembles a home movie to some extent but it’s just a shade more orchestrated than that, although it might just have been something shot to test a new camera. In William Buys a Parrot we see Burroughs, wearing a white suit and a dark brown fedora, approach a door in some exotic desert setting—either Gibraltar or Tangier, it seems. He raps on the door knocker, a man from inside comes out and they chat for a moment or two. Cut to a some kind of a coastal veranda, where Burroughs confronts the bird. Then the fellow comes out and the two men sit at the table and enjoy an adult beverage. The last third of the movie is the bird jumping around in his cage with Burroughs in the background. End of movie.
Burroughs and Balch in ‘Tony and Bill’
In Wising Up the Marks: The Amodern William Burroughs, Timothy S. Murphy has this to say about the movie:
William Buys a Parrot demonstrates that even when silence eliminates the specific word—the external word of mundane narrative interaction that is susceptible to technical reproduction and animal mimicry—it leaves intact the general, generic, internal Word—the structural Word of addictive subjectivity that allows the viewer to provide her own narration for this film.
Well… sure... Why not? To me, though, it just looks like a famous writer buying a bird and enjoying some daytime spirits with a chum…
William Buys a Parrot was probably shot in 1963, but edited in 1982 by Genesis P-Orridge who is said to have rescued it and many other films from a trash dumpster after Antony Balch’s death (including Balch’s other collaborations with Burroughs and painter Brion Gysin and some prints of Kenneth Anger’s films).