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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Charles Bukowski is probably the greatest American poet, who, to this
day, remains largely unrecognized by the literary establishment in the
United States. His greatest recognition came in and still is in Europe.
He's the poet that college professors love to dislike; because, many of
them tried to do what Bukowski did and failed. Bukowski became a cult,
literary underground figure in the late 50's, known only to the few
thousand fellow small press readers and publishers of the time. He
wrote of his experiences in flop houses, bars, and women in a very
distinctive, one-of-a-kind, formless fashion. He worked for several
years for the post office in two different stints in the 1950's and
1960's. Bukowski wrote on his own terms and never compromised, thanks
to his $100 monthly "grant" from a man that would become his lifelong
publisher, who started Black Sparrow Press. For the next 24 years from
January of 1970 until his death on March 9, 1994, Bukowski wrote
stories, poems, and novels, finding time in his later years to replace
drinking with racetrack betting.
This is an extraordinary documentary, capturing Bukowski in the 1970's and 1980's mostly, telling the story of his incredible life and alternatively capturing private moments that define him as well as defy his reputation. The film uses interviews of those that lived with him and knew him to portray a man that waded through an interpersonal sewer of a life, only to conquer the literary world on his own terms and make a decent living from it to boot. It's the story of a man, a writer, who just lived life as it presented itself to him. He had an unflinching ability to face the realities of his life with charm, wisdom, and a determination that even he would not be able to recognize. Whether he spoke of his upbringing, his drinking, his laziness, his unattractiveness, his women, and especially about love, death and sex, he remained steadfast in his cynicism laced with humor, much like the comic artist Robert Crumb. Most of the highlights in the film occur when Bukowski is either conversing or reading his own work. He reads his own work in a world weary tone of voice that possesses a cadence that seems to say he's tired of it all. Just then though, he hits us with another gem, another truth about ourselves and the world around us. See this at all costs. **** of 4 stars.
I'd never heard Bukowski speak before. I'd seen the pictures and read the words. This hard-nosed writer surprised me as a very soft spoken, very sensitive artist. His intimidating face became friendlier and friendlier to me as the film progressed. With this movie, you get to see a lot of interview footage and a lot of personal commentary from close friends. You get your heart tugged at when his childhood is filled in for you. You laugh at his wit while handling interviewers. And you probably get thirsty looking at all the wine and beer he drinks. The only thing I didn't care for about this was the ever-so-pompous Bono sharing his 2 cents.
If you go into this film without ever haven read Bukowski, it can be a jarring experience, but rewarding nonetheless. I love his stuff, most of it anyway, and never really had a chance to see him while he was alive. His book Post Office is perhaps the rawest and perfectly written piece of literature that I've ever read. The documentary does him justice in that it captures him in his perfect drunken, creative, and impossibly complex environment. Filmed over 10 to 15 years, it is not hero worship in any sense, it's as raw and revealing of a tortured, yet extremely funny individual as one can capture on film. We see his relationships with women unravel and patch up, the dusty daily grind of a regular job that he hates, his horrible childhood which would serve as material for Ham on Rye, his struggle with celebrity in the twilight of his life. Like all great artists Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Van Gogh, etc., Bukowski uses the pain and suffering of everyday life to his advantage, the result is a great revealing documentary that opens him up and makes him accessible to even his most die-hard fans. Much better than Barfly.
For those of us who haven't read any of his writing, Charles Bukowski, as
seen in this informative, engaging new documentary by John Dullaghan, is a
craggy deadbeat everyman, a working class L.A. writer with enough cult
status to have some cool famous fan admirers. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Harry
Dean Stanton, Tom Waits, Bono of U2, and Sean Penn are the main guys who
read lines or speak in admiring and affectionate terms of Bukowski. He also
had a string of women, some wives, the last one, Linda Lee, a beautiful,
classy lady with a tough and tender edge worthy of Lauren Bacall. More
important yet for his reputation perhaps, he had an editor and publisher who
put him on a monthly salary and brought out a lot of his books, John Martin
of Black Sparrow Press, who saw Bukowski as an updated Whitman, a man of the
people spewing wild poetry.
Somebody else told me he was the kind of writer you like if you're young and wild and drink a lot, the kind of tortured outsider persona that appeals to a 22-year-old, but that you wouldn't go back to. If you used to hit the sauce and gave it up you may feel Bukowski's prose has lost its flavor, like a doper's stoned insights. There are those who consider the writer a case of arrested development. Be that as it may, all his life Bukowski never wanted to be anything but a writer and never stopped writing, poems, then stories, finally novels. Two of his books most often mentioned are Post Office and Ham on Rye.
These may be young men's books with more rough flavor than depth of thought, but the fascination, for the young man, is with something solid: the hard nuggets of brutal boring existence, the courage of the deadbeat who's seen it all and bravely slogs on. First there's the six years, age six to twelve, of being beaten severely once a week with a razor strop by his ex-soldier father. An experience like that, Bukowski says, is good for a writer because it teaches you to tell the truth. Next he had ulcerative acne vulgaris as an adolescent and his face was covered with pullulating boils that left his face craggy and pitted for life -- though there are angles in some of the varied films from different decades that show him tanned and sunny, almost elegant-looking and possessed of an evident macho sexiness that explains in part the many women in his life. The other part is that he was a late bloomer as a ladies' man and took advantage of the fame of his later years to make up for lost time.
After the beatings and the acne Bukowski started visiting Skid Row to prepare for his future life. As his second decade wore on he wandered round the country staying at flophouses, rooming houses and cheap hotels, drunk, obviously, most of the time, throughout the Forties, excused by a psychiatrist from wartime military service. In the Fifties he settled into a minimal working stiff existence: employee at the post office, delivering mail (`living hell'); later on sorting it all night (which was so monotonous he'd get so he couldn't lift his arm), and, because he couldn't sleep, spending the day drinking and writing. Then, when a new addiction to gambling kicked in, he'd be at the racetrack playing the horses and play barfly in the afternoons brawling and flirting. He trashes the Barbet Schroeder movie from his screenplay about that part of his life, says Mickey Rourke is too theatrical and flowery; and he wrote a book called Hollywood after the filmmaking experience to show the dream factory was even stupider and faker than he'd ever imagined.
Eventually a regular column in an L.A. weekly got Bukowski noticed. Then John Martin stepped in with his financial and moral support and through the Seventies and Eighties the man's reputation and financial success grew to the point where he moved to a nice house in San Pedro with his lovely wife. He wasn't expected to live after developing severe bleeding ulcers in his thirties (1956) but he recovered and had a new burst of creativity. In his last few years he got tuberculosis, lost 60 pounds, and gave up heavy drinking. He died soon after being diagnosed with leukemia, at 73.
Watching this documentary you feel good because of the man's clarity and humor. Simplistic his expression may be, but it has the brilliant directness of the practiced writer who wears no mask. But despite all the tastes of his writing he and his celebrity admirers provide, I still don't know if I'd want to read some of his prolific oeuvre, and the picture of a similar, but sober, figure named Harvey Pekar in American Splendor (Bukowski too was wildly re-imagined by R. Crumb) seems more complex and multilayered, while no less down to earth. It's no secret that Harry Dean, Bono, Sean, and Mr. Waits are enthusiastic boozers themselves, and that's one big reason why `Hank' Bukowski's their bard and patron saint.
And if you compare Bukowski to another heavy user (but a more wildly adventurous one), William Burroughs, his mind and work don't seem as rich or as interesting as Burroughs', nor his life as intensely engaged with the issues of his times as the Beats'. Nevertheless, that's not to impugn the authenticity of his voice. There's nobody quite like Bukowski; hence, no doubt, his cult status, and the way people from other countries, places where the brawling and the articulate life are less often combined, find him so fascinating and so accessible.
I highly recommend this unique masterpiece. Hank was even more lovable
person in live than I expected.
When the documentary ended I was very touched. Even a couple of tears on my cheek. Those might be caused by wine a drank while watching this hypnotic film. But anyway if you are not familiar with his work it's about time to read one of the greatest writers within this genre. Lots of rare material (at least here in Finland) and even a short interview with his daughter Marina.
As a dilettante's summary: a must for anyone ever read Bukowski and for others hopefully a trigger to start right away.
Don't try, God bless.
For Bukowski fans, this film is another of those items you have to
possess but which will leave outsiders repulsed or appalled.
Most of the information in the film has been captured in various published interviews and biographies and in Bukowski's own autobiographical writings. But it is good to see the man moving about before our eyes again, driving his VW, visiting the track and the laundry, and his childhood home, where he 'reminisces' about the beatings his father administered with a razor strop. And it's interesting seeing some of Bukowski's lovers and associates again.
The quality of the archival footage is pretty poor, having been shot, it appears, with amateur 8mm equipment. We can be thankful it was shot at all, since who knew what value it might have. The sound, however, is quite good.
After many years of reading about Bukowski, I still haven't decided whether he was a sensitive soul driven to occasional episodes of egotistical pettiness and meanness by a bad childhood or just a self-centered ass who happened to have talent. However you view him in that regard, you cannot deny that he stuck by his vocation in spite of all. He personified the driven writer.
An old friend of mine used to regail me with stories of Charles Bukowski,
the great everyman poet who wasn't afraid to tell it like it his, who
care at all about formalism or what had come before him...he just wanted
put his essence on the page (no matter how crudely he might fashion it).
BUKOWSKI: BORN INTO THIS is a great show into the life of this man. It meanders at points, and tries a bit too hard to exemplify this guy, but you can't argue with some of the majestic footage different folks got. A scene shot in 1986 shows a drunk Bukowski yelling at his wife and then literally trying to kick her off the couch...footage that silenced the auditorium and solidified the idea of Bukowski as a drunken belligerent. But at another point, we see Bukowski cry while reading a poem of his about a woman he lost...completely different from the mythical man. Other stories of his rudeness are shadowed by stories of his covert kindness.
There is nothing incredibly special about how this is shot...but for any Bukowski fan, this is a must-see...the most in-depth look into the life of the man so far shown in America. Too bad that one of the greatest American poets ever is more famous abroad than at home.
Genius, alcoholic, misogynist, poet, borderline psychopath. These are
some of the words and labels branded on 'Beat' poet and author Henry
Charles Bukowski Jr. during this extremely detailed and informative
account of his life and work. For those unacquainted with his blue-
collar genius, Bukowski started out drifting through meaningless jobs
across America in the 1940's, drinking and writing all he could in his
spare time. It wasn't until the 1960's when a collector of 1st editions
and manager of a printing company offered to publish a collection of
his works, when his career took off. He wrote possibly thousands of
poems and was asked to write a novel. This work was Post Office, an
deadpan account of his 16 years working for the U.S. Post Office.
Although he was, and still is, recognised as a 'Beat' writer (alongside the likes of Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg), he was very much a man of his own style. Where Kerouac wrote about his personal journeys in a structured, detailed way, Bukowski wrote about mundane things in a straightforward way. It was very much poetry for the blue collar workers. In this documentary, John Dullaghan pieces together interview footage shot by the likes of Taylor Hackford and Barbet Schroeder, as well as pieces conducted by Italian and Belgian TV, to create a portrayal of a very complex and misunderstood man (there are also interviews with the likes of Sean Penn, Bono, Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton).
Like A Man Within (2010), which focused on fellow beat writer William S. Burroughs, Born Into This tries to tackle the various attributes that made the man. While telling a relatively chronological story of Bukowski, it covers the subjects of his childhood abuse at the hands of his father, his alcohol abuse, his treatment of women, his reaction to fame, and how this led to an influx of women begging for his 'purple onion' (as he called it). Running at 130 minutes, this is an incredibly (and necessarily) detailed documentary that really gets to the heart of the man who created some incredibly pieces of literature. I remember reading Post Office and Factotum when I was younger, and being blown away by its simplistic beauty and honesty. A must-see for any fans.
I may as well get it out of the way that I am a bit biased going into
this film. Charles Bukowski is possibly my favorite author (only
Dostoyevski and Burroughs gives him serious competition). The
documentary didn't really tell me anything new, as I had learned most
about Bukowski's life through his deeply personal series of "Henry
Chinaski" novels. However, it was very entertaining and even moving
towards the end. Here is such a unique character in American literature
that it is good someone finally made a film about him.
There are a few very minor flaws. Like many documentaries, I often found myself wondering why I cared about the interviewee's opinion and that they didn't really contribute anything (Sean Penn and Bono were the cases in this film). Plus, it was slightly overlong. However, the wealth of archival footage and interviews with Bukowski presented more than make up for those insignificant details. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of him needs to check out this film pronto. Anyone who is interested in being introduced to his world view may pick up this doc as a good starter point (along with a copy of "Ham On Rye" and "Love Is a Dog From Hell"). (7/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bukowski: Born Into This (2003): Dir: John Dullaghan / Featuring: Charles Bukowski, Linda Lee, John Martin, Bono, Marina Bukowski: Documentary about writer and poet Charles Bukowski whose work has achieved cult standing with his dark, cynical and somewhat comical view of life. Director John Dullaghan presents interview footage of Bukowski in colour and black and white where he discusses his abuse as a child as well as various sexual flings until he married Linda Lee, the one woman who seemed strong enough to tolerate his cynical and abusive nature. He worked at a post office and viewers are informed of the time he quit and his method of re-hire. John Martin was his editor and publisher who enabled Bukowski a salary while presenting his writing in print. Various celebrities comment on his work and behaviour but their contribution, however merit, do not add so much as distract from the more important subject, which is actual footage of Bukowski himself. Celebrities can tell much but they seem more as a marketing tool than an important collaborator. John Dullaghan's film should appeal to those scholars who study the intellect of men like Bukowski. He is presented as a man who saw only the dark side of life but delights us with his humorous presentation of it. He was born into a world where he saw no hope but scoffed the grim reality of humanity. Score: 8 ½ / 10
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