Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Charles Bukowski
Photo: Michael Montfort

Directed & Produced by: John Dullaghan.
Director of Photography: Matt Mindlin.
Edited by: Victor Livingston.
Music by: James Stemple.
Released by: Magnolia.
Country of Origin: USA. 113 min. Not Rated.
With: Bono, Sean Penn, Harry Dean Stanton, Barbet Schroeder & Tom Waits.

The opening of Bukowski: Born Into This crosscuts Charles Bukowski's friends and fans lauding the poet and Bukowski informing a poetry audience he'll need more booze before the night is through. As Bukowski is actually on the verge of reading his poem, the excitement is already dying down. We do hear some of his poetry during the film, surprisingly little of the prose, but the writing is conspicuously secondary to the controversy stirred by his slurred and swaggering stance. With a beginning like this, viewers are told by and large, as with most Bukowski biographies, it is the psychology and not the aesthetic that is being dissected. There are surprisingly visual interludes, which feature Bukowski walking through LA while the words of one of his poems run across the screen. But for the most part, the question of Bukowski's literary merit goes almost entirely unexamined.

This is not to say that Bukowski's personality isn't enough to explore in a documentary running nearly two hours. However, the film is essentially a panorama of talking heads, many of which might have easily been omitted. One pointless interview features an artist who describes walking into a bookstore with a woman he wanted to sleep with. He asked the bookstore owner for a recommendation and was steered toward Bukowksi. He opened a book of poems, and the first line read something to the effect of loneliness not being the worst thing in the world, and, miraculously, he was healed - we are told - of his desire for the woman. Segments featuring Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and Bono don't go much further than celebrities recounting their own celebrity-spottings.

The film fails to answer - or even ask - the big question of who Bukowski's influences were. It offers none. Nonetheless, the late poet was a fascinating man, an abused child reluctant to degrade himself in the alienating system he saw around him. His poetry and prose were sparse and raw, and - through his fierce independence and sincerity - did offer a kind of antidote to his mainstream contemporaries. Joel Whitney, screenwriter/poet, teaches at Fordham University
June 2, 2004



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