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Bukowski: Born Into This
Author Louis Proyect
Date 05/06/10/00:13
Hit Count 697

Although I had a VHS screener of the 2004 "Bukowski: Born Into This" on my
shelves for over a year, I only got around to watching it last night. Since
the insufferably pretentious Bono of U2 fame--a Bukowski fan--was among the
interviewees for this documentary about the decidedly unglamorous writer
who died of leukemia in March 1994 at the age of 73, I was leery of
first-time director John Dullaghan's intentions. As it turned out, this
film is deeply moving and true to the memory of the man that Sartre called
"America's greatest poet."

Nearly everything that Bukowski wrote was autobiographical, including this

My Father (from "Septuagenarian Stew" 1994)
was a truly amazing man
he pretended to be
even though we lived on beans and mush and weenies
when we sat down to eat, he said,
"not everybody can eat like this."

and because he wanted to be rich or because he actually
thought he was rich
he always voted Republican
and he voted for Hoover against Roosevelt
and he lost
and then he voted for Alf Landon against Roosevelt
and he lost again
saying, "I don't know what this world is coming to,
now we've got that god damned Red in there again
and the Russians will be in our backyard next!"

I think it was my father who made me decide to
become a bum.
I decided that if a man like that wants to be rich
then I want to be poor.

and I became a bum.
I lived on nickles and dimes and in cheap rooms and
on park benches.
I thought maybe the bums knew something.
but I found out that most of the bums wanted to be
rich too.
they had just failed at that.

so caught between my father and the bums
I had no place to go
and I went there fast and slow.
never voted Republican
never voted.

buried him
like an oddity of the earth
like a hundred thousand oddities
like millions of other oddities,

As a youth in Los Angeles, Bukowski experienced great suffering. His father
was a strict disciplinarian who beat him with a razor strop on any pretext,
including a failure to mow the front lawn properly. He was also a social
outcast due to a particularly virulent form of acne that left his face
permanently scarred as well as his own rejection of conventional society.

Unlike the beat generation, with whom he is often incorrectly grouped,
Bukowski never sought out a bohemian counter-culture that would offer some
sort of consolation and support. Instead he became a loner at an early age,
performing menial labor, drinking in skid row saloons and living in rooming
houses or cheap hotels. When he wasn't drinking, he was pounding out poems
and short stories on a portable typewriter under bare light-bulbs in dingy

Stylistically, Bukowski was strongly influenced by Hemingway. His spare but
dramatic approach consciously disdained the florid and mannered writing
that was becoming fashionable in the post-WWII period. A Bukowski short
story is utterly devoid of stream of consciousness, highly detailed
descriptions of physical place or any other modernist conventions. One
would never confuse a Bukowski story with James Joyce or William Faulkner.

Despite his debt to Hemingway, Bukowski spoke derisively about the mystique
that surrounded him. Bukowski did openly acknowledge the impact of John
Fante on his prose and referred to him once as "my god." Like Bukowski,
Fante was an original. I strongly recommend his "Ask the Dust," which is
about a struggling writer in Los Angeles in the 1930s. It is obvious why
Bukowski would have an affinity for Fante. After Bukowski's rise to fame,
he demanded that "Ask the Dust" be republished by Black Sparrow Press.

To the film's credit, it interviews Fante's widow Joyce and others
qualified to speak about his literary influences and contributions,
including Carl Weissner who translated Bukowski's writings into German, San
Francisco Renaissance figure Lawrence Ferlinghetti who is still going
strong at 85 and Bukowski's long-time publisher John Martin of Black
Sparrow Press.

Martin was Bukowski's Medici. In the mid 1960s, he found himself utterly
captivated by Bukowski's writings and offered him $100 per month for life
if he gave up his job at the post office and devoted himself full-time to
writing. Bukowski accepted the offer and the rest is history.

Some of the most moving moments in the film come from the women in Charles
Bukowski's life. Although he had the well-deserved reputation of being a
misogynist, he could also be deeply loving and tender. The final scene
shows Linda Bukowski at his gravesite reminiscing about his final breaths
in a hospital bed, where immediately after his demise his face seemed to
relax for the first time ever.

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