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TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS (STORIE DI ORDINARIA FOLLIA)(director: Marco Ferreri; screenwriters: Sergio Amidei/Anthony Fautz/from a story by Bukowski; cinematographer: Tonino Delli Colli; editor: Ruggero Mastroianni; cast: Ben Gazzara (Charles Serking), Ornella Muti (Cass), Susan Tyrrell (Vera), Tanya Lopert (Vicky), Roy Brocksmith (Barman), Patrick Hughes (Pimp), Hope Cameron (Hotel proprietor), Judith Drake (Fat Woman), Wendy Welles (Runaway), Katya Berger (Girl on beach): Runtime: 108; 23 Giugno/Ginis; 1982-Italy)
“Ben Gazzara had some of Bukowski’s outward mannerisms.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ben Gazzara plays the drunken skid row Los Angeles down-and-out poet Charles Bukowski, but in the film he is called Charles Serking. Ben’s portrayal offers an unbecoming look at the poet’s reflections on life, poetry, and the bizarre women he is attracted to.

It is through Charles’ voiceover that we are told what he is thinking. But its awkward dialogue makes it seem more like a foreign film than an American one. At odd times poetry became the film’s language, which gave the film a jarring rhythm as Charles would break out with a poem whenever there was a lull in the story and there were many such lulls. The poems were read without the intimacy needed for the viewer to comprehend the depth of the poet’s anguish and the rage that was building inside him.

Bukowski is an interesting character, with something to say about why he feels most comfortable living with the ones he calls the “real people”: the demented, the abandoned, the impoverished, the defeated, and the damned. It would be interesting to see why it means so much to him to be with these type of people rather than with other poets. But I’m afraid you are not going to know anything more about him from this film than a few outward details of his life. As the film ends he will seem like a lost soul, drinking to forget; but, when sober, he is seen as someone who is desperately searching for his muse.

The film opens with Bukowski giving a poetry reading in a NYC pub and the disinterested audience could care less about his poetry. After the reading Bukowski states that “style is the answer to everything, it pertains to the madness inside. Joan of Arc had it. Hemingway had it when he blew his brains out.”

Returning to his hotel and ready to depart for the dangerous streets of Hollywood he loves so much, Bukowski is befriended by a runaway blonde (Welles) who tells him she is a 12-year-old; but, when he feels her titties, he tells her she must be 16 and she counters that she is really 14. After spending the night together, he passes out from his drunken stupor and wakes up to discover the girl is gone with his money and his Greyhound bus ticket to Los Angeles.

Back in the city of “Lost Angels,” as he calls his hometown, he is confronted by his ex-wife Vicki. She has the apartment next door and helps him pay his hotel bills; she fusses over him, nags him, and throws out his beer. That last act is what makes him the most upset.

The women in his life are an odd assortment of misfits and unstable lowlifes. While at Venice Beach, he is attracted to a sexually enticing blonde, Vera (Tyrrell), and follows her home when she boards a bus. When he chats with her on the bus she gives him mixed messages, eventually taking a far away seat. When she gets off the bus he follows her and pushes his way into her apartment, where a mixture of rape and encouraged spankings occur. She also tells him that she hoped he wouldn’t lose his nerve and not attack her. Charles asks her: “If she enjoyed it? She responds: “I enjoy being raped.” But the unstable blonde calls the police on him and he is arrested for sodomy. The next morning she decides not to press charges.

Charles next meets the love of his life at his favorite Hollywood lowlife bar, a beautiful streetwalker named Cass (Muti ), who is having an argument with her pimp and leaves him to sit next to the poet. She proves that she is not only gorgeous but has some serious mental problems, as she sticks a large safety-pin into her cheeks while they are getting acquainted. In his hotel room, he reads out loud to her the poem he just created: “Love he said, makes me forget. Kiss my face, my lips, my cock, my balls, my brains, make me forget.” The poet doesn’t rush into the lovemaking, which she appreciates, and she tells him “Take my soul with your cock.” They both seemed suited for each other, each determined in their own way to forget about things.

The unbalanced Cass is suicidal, attempting to slash her throat with a broken beer bottle. Their stormy relationship centers around their loneliness and inability to fit into society and the reckless way they live, courting death and danger. In a tragic scene, she closes up her vagina with a safety-pin. This happens when he is about to tell her the good news, that he received a stipend and living quarters to be a live-in poet in NYC.

In NYC, Bukowski lashes out at those who think they can create a poet by imprisonment in some material comfort and in an office-like workplace. His grant is soon terminated, as the donors tell him he needs a doctor not a publisher.

Back in L.A. Bukowski discovers that Cass committed suicide and he comments, “The whore of an angel flew too close to the ground and crashed.” Feeling empty without her, Bukowski roams the beach and a pretty young girl comes up to him and asks him to write her a poem. He says, “What will you give me for it?” And she says, “Where does poetry come from?” To which he responds, “Show me your titties and I’ll compose a poem for you.” If anything is to be salvaged from this film, it is in the closing scene that opens its doors metaphorically for the first time to a nature the poet seems to be running away from.

Ben Gazzara had some of Bukowski’s outward mannerisms and the same beady eyes as the poet. He also had his sleazy appearance down pat; but, when it came to the poetry part, that’s a different story. Though an alcoholic and a man of many different moods Bukowski had a strong voice and his poetry was potent, especially when he read in public. That was not the case here. I once met Bukowski and drank with him in a bar where we both gave a poetry reading and in that brief encounter I found him to be witty and humorous, seeing the joke there is in life. I thought this film didn’t catch his mood completely or the sheer spontaneity and madness of his life, that was only hinted at. The characterization of him just didn’t ring a bell with me. The poetry and the story mixed together in this film made for a drink that didn’t taste right, and it wasn’t strong enough to knock me out.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”