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Bukowski: Born Into This

USA 2003
Directed by
John Dullaghan
108 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Bukowski: Born Into This

Synopsis: A documentary covering the life of American poet and novelist, Charles Bukowski, 1920-1994.

Imagine a dishevelled W.C.Fields walking out of a panel of a Robert Crumb cartoon and breaking into free verse about not getting laid and you’ve got Henry Charles “Hank” Bukowski, cult LA poet, novelist and drunkard who died in 1994. Anyone interested in the “beat” tradition of American cultural history that stretches from Walt Whitman via Ginsberg and Kerouac to Tom Waits will enjoy this thorough, slightly overlong (the American release was another 5 minutes longer) documentary about him, written, produced and directed with assurance by John Dullaghan. Whilst some familiarity at least with the historical period covered will help, people who may not be literarily inclined but enjoy the kind of social marginalia so well captured in 2003’s American Splendor will also find this an intriguing account of disaffection made good.

Dullaghan’s film is impressively well-researched and draws from many filmed interviews, from footage of poetry readings, and from the testimony of Bukowski's friends, lovers and associates. Whilst we could have done without the reminiscences of red carpet renegades like Bono and Sean Penn, included no doubt to pull in punters with a fly-like attraction to celebrity names (Bono even reads a Bukowski poem, sadly, to no great effect), for the most part these elements are cannily assembled to provide an effective portrait of the man and his work from his damaged beginnings at the hands of an overbearing and physically violent father to his eventual literary lionization.

It is an interesting story and whilst one gets the impression that the less savoury aspects of Bukowski’s life have been left out (briefly glimpsed in some footage shot by Barbet Schroeder, who went on to make the disappointing 1987 film about the poet, Barfly) he comes across as a survivor, blessed with intelligence, a sense of humour and for all his physical unprepossessingness, an undeniable charisma, who not only turned his suffering into art but got famous by doing so.




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