Paul Bowles on the Big Screen

Catherine Hiller Warnow, left, and Regina Weinreich with Paul Bowles in Tangier in 1988 during the filming of their documentary on the writer and musician Samantha Heilweil

    On Sunday at 4 p.m., Guild Hall will screen “Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider,” a 1994 film by Catherine Hiller Warnow and Regina Weinreich.
    The filmmakers will be available for questions after the screening. This is the 100th anniversary year of the author’s birth. The film debuted at the Hamptons International Film Festival, and this is an appropriate homecoming for it, Ms. Weinreich said last week.
    The documentary follows Bowles’s steps in Morocco and includes interviews with the subject as well as contemporaries such as Allen Ginsberg. In his review for The New York Times, Stephen Holden said, “Although the film is just under an hour, it covers a great deal of territory with maximum efficiency. In the composite portrait that emerges from the recollections of friends and associates, Mr. Bowles comes across as contradictory, enigmatic and temperamentally cool.”
    Ms. Weinreich said that about 30 hours of footage were taken to arrive at that hour.
    “At the center of the film stands Mr. Bowles, who was interviewed in Tangier. Slender, white-haired and exuding a patrician reserve, the octogenarian writer talks about his work in tantalizing riddles,” the review continued.    
    Ms. Weinreich said “I had taught a creative writing workshop with Paul as part of a summer program for the School of Visual Arts in 1983. That was how I first met him.” The two developed a friendship. “I spent a lot of time with him in his apartment where, in the afternoons, guests would arrive unannounced.” The writer did not have a phone. “Fans of both his music and his books, travel, short stories, and novels, would gather in his spare living room. He would serve them tea.” Mohammed Mrabet, a Moroccan storyteller and painter, would cook tagine. Bowles and Ms. Weinreich continued to correspond after that summer for the rest of his life. She made the film five years later.
    Mr. Bowles wrote “The Sheltering Sky,” a novel making use of his experiences in the North African desert and the unconventional marriage he shared with the author Jane Auer Bowles, who died in 1973. It has routinely ended up on lists of the best 20th-century fiction. It was written in 1949. He was the author of 20 books in total.
    According to Ms. Weinreich, Bowles was a fascinating subject known for both his music and literature. “His life was like a who’s who of the 20th century. He worked with Salvador Dali, knew Gypsy Rose Lee, Lincoln Kirstein, W.H. Auden, Lillian Hellman, Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, everyone in theater and the arts. In the film he impersonates Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Gertrude Stein’s dog, Basket.”
    Although not a poet, Mr. Bowles was an inspiration to the Beat Generation, which Ms. Weinreich has covered in other works such as “The Beat Generation: An American Dream,” “Kerouac’s Spontaneous Poetics,” and the compilation “Kerouac’s Book of Haikus.” She is also a contributor to The Star.
    His most notable influence may have been on those midcentury writers, but Ms. Weinreich said his work still speaks to new generations. “Young writers in my classes love his austere prose and exotic settings. In the 1980s he had a devoted following, mostly Europeans and Asians knew his work and were devoted fans.”
    When they made the film, Ms. Weinreich and Ms. Warnow had doctorates in American literature “and neither one of us heard his name mentioned in any of our classes. Now, the scholarly world has caught up with him and many major books have been written about his work. Especially now, when there is so much interest in the Arab world, he provides a window into a culture that remains elusive to the West.”    
    Tickets are $12, $10 for members, and are available at guildhall.org or at the box office.