May 14, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles

Current Status
In Season
Paul Bowles
Jennifer Baichwal
We gave it a B

Grizzled yet elegantly angular, with a wit as sandstone dry as his prose, Paul Bowles, at 88, manipulates his mystique like a rapier in Let It Come Down, an insightful, impressionistic documentary that offers a rare personal glimpse of the author of The Sheltering Sky. Bowles agreed to be interviewed within the shadowy labyrinth of Tangiers, where he has lived since the late ’30s, when he first kissed off his native America. As we meditate on his charismatically cryptic pronouncements, the movie invites us to see how this most remote and detached of all expatriate writers remained, in some hidden pocket of his soul, a turn-of-the-century Northeastern WASP — a man who literally went to the ends of the earth to declare his emotions (and his homosexual leanings).

In the film’s highlight, Bowles returns for a brief 1996 visit to New York and is reunited in a hotel suite with his fellow pansexual literary outlaws, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. If the two aging Beats were ahead of their time, Bowles, the ironic gentleman, seems beyond it — a displaced alien counting off his decades on earth before he’s whisked away to something better. B

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