BUKOWSKI: BORN INTO THIS (director: John Dullaghan; cinematographers: Matt Mindlin/Art Simon; editor: Victor Livingston; music: James Stemple; cast: Charles Bukowski, Linda Lee Bukowski, John Martin, Bono, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, Taylor Hackford, Pam ‘Cupcakes’ Miller, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Dom Muto; Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Dullaghan; Magnolia Pictures; 2004)
“This thorough documentary is essential for the poet’s fans.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Filmmaker John Dullaghan’s documentary chronicles the trials and tribulations of the misogynistic, loner Los Angeles skid row poet Charles Bukowsi’s (1920-1994) life through his readings, photos, archival footage, personal stories and interviews with him (some by European TV), his ex-lady friends, his wife and many admirers who recognized him as a writer for the dispossessed (including celebs Bono, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Waits, Sean Penn & the lesser known filmmaker Taylor Hackford). There are no critiques of the poet presented from detractors, but somehow it gets by without a need for second opinions since the poet is more or less honestly portrayed. The poet’s image remains as a hell-raiser and as the ‘man of the people’ poet and referred to by his gushing admirers as the bold true voice who “liberated poetry from the academics.” He became known by those looking for a dissenting voice to the System mostly through his regular column for the L.A. Free Press called ”Notes of a Dirty Old Man,” where he was discovered by John Martin. He’s the publisher of the Black Sparrow press who said he was “today’s Walt Whitman” and rescued Bukowski from working 14 years in the post office, as he gambled on him being the writer that will get his infant publishing house off the ground by offering him a guaranteed $100 a month for the rest of his life whether he writes or not–even though he had a rep as a boozer and a surly barfly frequenting dives in East Hollywood.
The surprise that comes across in the film is that Bukowsi despite looking and living like a bum, acting obnoxiously like a macho guy (boasting of being good at duking it out and having numerous affairs with overweight women), and being a boozer, he still made himself into a major poet (“War All The Time”) and a very good novelist (“Post Office”) by his hard-work ethic and concerns about craftsmanship. The film also captures his soft side that he kept hidden from the public. Bukowski’s life is painted, warts and all, from his early horror years where he was pained by his severely pockmarked face, which gave him a low-self-esteem as he thought of himself as ugly, to the lingering hurtful memories of his German immigrant father giving him daily beatings with a razor strap. We see him take to the road in the 1940s to escape his father and live in flophouses while subsisting on one candy bar a day while he continuously wrote short stories, and how after all the rejections from those early stories he eventually achieved success as he connected with a loyal readership at Black Sparrow and became immortalized by Barbet Schroeder’s 1987 movie ”Barfly.” He was portrayed by Mickey Rourke, a performance he duly noted had too much swagger and a sense of showoff to really capture his essence. In his later years the poet mellowed with success but still wrote about it in the same unflinching way he depicted his hard journey to get there. He’s a one of a kind contradictory character, who is capable of beating his girlfriend or brilliantly stating in a poem “as the spirit wanes, the form appears.” His other notable quotes in the film are his definition of love as ”a fog that burns with the first daylight of reality” and that “sex is something to do when you can’t sleep.”
I’ve always found his poetry got to the bone of things and his hardboiled act was something real that grew in his later years into something that was both real and an act. Though seemingly telling us everything about himself, the poet still remains an enigma. This thorough documentary is essential for the poet’s fans; it gives us a good sense of Bukowski’s honest rage and the price one must pay to be an artist and an outsider in a materialistic world that can be indifferent and cold.
there are worse things thanbeing alonebut it often takes decadesto realize thisand most oftenwhen you doit’s too lateand there’s nothing worsethantoo late.
—from Bukowski’s “War All The Time: poems 1981-1984.”
REVIEWED ON 7/1/2006 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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