John Dullaghan's Bukowski: Born Into This
In 2003 the documentary Bukowski: Born Into This was selected for both the Sundance and Tribeca festivals. It is the biography of famed local poet Henry Charles Bukowski, Junior (1920-1994), as told by the people who knew him, loved him, worked with him, and drank in the barstool next to him. A large amount of footage is of the man himself, some in black and white, other shots in grainy color, some shot on video tape. It all melds together into a picture of the man as raw, deeply injured, but still very human.
In 2003 I pulled into the parking lot of Webster's drugstore to pick up a prescription. When I came out, a man approached me and asked me about the bumper sticker on my car: “I’d rather be reading Bukowski.” He told me about this film, that he loved Bukowski and he had just put it together; this was John Dullaghan. To walk up to stranger and start talking Bukowski can be seen as odd, but it feels like sharing a story with an old friend. His work is like that, he was like that, and this film portrays that side well.
Sean Penn, Bono, Tom Waits, and Harry D. Stanton all found ways to connect with him. Many women who attempted it, connected to him as well.
“The cameras and whores came too late.” His fascination and romantic fantasies about women, and his rolling across the U.S. in the early 40’s to find himself (much like the Beats did), paint him as a searcher for deep meaning, but he stripped it down to each moment of poverty, alcoholism, despair.
Bukowski hated seeing qualities in others he didn’t like in himself. He hated the idea of working for someone else; he wanted to drink and write, and on occasion go to the track and get laid. This was not enough for him. He survived the terrors of 2122 Longwood Avenue, where his father beat him for missing one hair of grass from ages six to twelve, and for many other reasons. Most were not that logical.
Bukowski talks about lessons learned as he drinks more and more. It is hard not to judge him and say, “If he had stayed sober, dealt with the issues of his parents, not internalized all that rage, he wouldn’t have been so explosive, so violent, damaged so many parts of his life.” But perhaps fortunately, we are not inside his head. He dealt with things the way he did and wrote volumes about it, about us and the mistakes we make every day.
Bukowski gets to know many women who come into his life and get thrown out. Many of these are younger, play with his head and move on. He gets to the point where he wants to just love them, and he goes through grieving when they leave. In one excerpt from the film, in the DVD bonus section, a woman talks about the project she wrote and later published called, “Blowing My Hero.” She sees him as a mentor she went down on, he sees her as another person who used him and split.
Hank is challenged about his book (Women) as a chauvinistic work; he denies this. In one black and white scene, he reads a poem about Linda (the first one) King and loses it, begins crying, and then berates himself on screen for losing his composure. It shows the side we always knew was there. Harry D. Stanton reads a poem called “Blue Bird” which exposes this side fully.
There is talk throughout the film about Buk’s appearance, Acne Vulgaris that only after his death becomes smooth skin.
This is a masterful work, well edited, which brings out stories by and about him as a person - the life he lived and wrote about, from the street, to the Post Office, to his only child Marina, born to local poet FrancEye Smith, to East Hollywood and eventually the second Linda (his last wife), San Pedro, and the legacy he left behind for us to follow and understand. And maybe a story or two we can share, in between bets at Santa Anita.
(Bukowski: Born Into This. A Magnolia Pictures film. Director: John Dullaghan. Available on U.S. Format DVD in March 2006. Rated “R” for language and sexual content/nudity. Runtime: 113 minutes. www.bukowskifilm.com)