Bukowski - Born Into This

by Howie Green

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday March 21, 2006

Bukowski - Born Into This

Writer Charles Bukowski gets the full star treatment in the newly released DVD version of the 2002 documentary from Magnolia Home Entertainment called Bukowski - Born Into This. Director John Dullaghan filmed Bukowski with open access to anyone and seemingly everyone who ever knew him who were all ready and willing to comment about the writer's work and life. Getting to know Bukowski through this film is a real eye-opening experience that shows there was much more to the writer than the howling drunken bastard of legend.

Bukowski's purple prose pushed American literature into the dark underbelly of daily life that even William Burroughs and the Beat poets dared not reveal. His influence on the generations that followed him is well documented in this film with Tom Waits, Sean Penn, Bono and many others paying homage to the writer of such left-of-center works as Women and Bar Fly. With great love and appreciation they reveal the impact Bukowski had on them and their work.

Bukowski's story is one of a success that took almost a lifetime to arrive. He lived through a hellish, abusive childhood, followed by teenage years when he was branded an outcast due to severe acne and anti-social behavior; then, as an adult, found salvation in writing and drinking. Working in obscurity for years before getting even a short poem published didn't stop Bukowski from establishing a substantial work ethic that turned him into a prolific, if unknown author writing in an utterly unique voice.

In the 1950s when the Beat Generation of poets and writers hit San Francisco, Bukowski found a community in which he felt comfortable. Although the Beats didn't exactly embrace Bukowski their popularity in certain circles did give the writer additional access to publishers like Lawrence Ferlinghetti who applauded his efforts and spurred him on to write more.

It wasn't until almost a decade later that Bukowski finally found some notoriety in the burgeoning underground 1960s counter-culture press through his weekly column Notes of a Dirty Old Man that ran in several publications. Suddenly in his late 40s Bukowski was an underground celebrity but still unable to support himself through his writing. To pay his rent and keep himself in cigarettes and booze Bukowski worked at the Post Office during the day and wrote at night. It was a reasonable existence for a man who was used to living on $150 a month. When small press publisher John Martin offered to pay him that much to write full-time, Bukowski quit his job and focused on writing. He had already established a ferocious ability to crank out work and he amazed Martin by writing a novel over a weekend. Their relationship continued for years and the books that Martin published brought Bukowski's work to the mainstream audience. In the film Martin talks about their relationship and reveals that he was later able to sell all his rights to a larger publisher for a lot of money. That company then republished all of Bukowski's works that proved to be so popular that they are all still in print. Both Martin and Bukowski made out very well from their deal.

The documentary features a veritable who's who of famous faces of family, fans and friends of the writer. Film director Taylor Hackford, who's 1973 movie Bukowski features the writer giving a reading, discusses his friendship and appreciation of Bukowski's unique work. Lawrence Ferlinghetti appears in an old film clip praising Bukowski's courage as a writer his willingness to openly explore new places. Harry Dean Stanton appears doing a reading from one of Bukowski's books and Sean Penn tells of his friendship with the writer and of an eventful evening in Ireland when he brought Bukowski together with U2's lead singer Bono, a lifelong fan.

There are also interviews with three of his wives (he was married four times) and his only daughter who talk about their relationships with the writer with affection, love, and very honest statements. Bukowski was not an easy guy; but despite his reputation for drunken, womanizing bad behavior he managed to endear himself to a large group of people who understood the pain and rejection that drove him. Where this movie goes beyond just being a documentary and becomes something more are the sequences with Bukowski in which he openly reveals his great love for people in his life. Here he shows that he is not at all the crusty mean-spirited demonized bastard of legend, but a sensitive guy with a real heart. His fighting spirit, which comes through in his writings, is what makes him such an important literary figure in American history.

Bukowski Born Into This is that rare biographic documentary that gets under the surface and reveals the man at the center of the legend with all his flaws. Bukowski was the real deal and his heart and soul are what resound over the years and will continue to affect everyone who reads his work for generations to come. Bukowski's saving grace is that he lived long enough to see the world embrace his work. That brought him financial security and peace of mind towards the end of his life. After a series of health problems brought on by a life of excess he died in 1994 at the age of 74.

Howie Green is a Boston-based artist and painter whose portrait of rapper Biggie Smalls appears on the album "Incredible". He is winner of Absolut Vodka's 25th Anniversary art competition and he painted 3 of the cows in the Boston Cow Parade. He recently painted a series of Pop Art Murals at the Dimock Center in Boston, MA and completed large art and mural installations in Delray Beach and Jacksonville, FL. He also recently painted the front entrance to Boston City Hall. His a multi-media designer and author of several books including "Jazz Fish Zen: Adventures in Mamboland" - and he once sang back-up for the opening act at a Shaun Cassidy concert in Madison Square Garden.