So I watched the dvd of the Bukowski: Born Into This documentary the other night, and I have to say it was amazing. I’ve always liked Bukowski, and probably in the last year or so I’ve even liked him more and have been rereading a lot of his books. Some people still criticize him because of his drinking and so forth, but it really doesn’t matter how much he drank or what kind of image he projected if his writing is good, and his best work only seems to increase in greatness over time. Virtually nobody could write so simply, so spare, yet pack language with meaning, beauty, and ugliness. It looks deceptively easy, which is why most of his imitators come off as such rank amateurs.
So really there was no way I wasn’t going to like this film, unless the director John Dullaghan turned out to make some sort of major mistake – but he didn’t. He uses all kinds of great footage, from different time periods, in color and b&w. It’s moving photographs, juxtaposed with texts and readings and interviews, films within films, a solid, classic documentary style. The pacing was perfect. Even the use of “sincere” U2 frontman Bono worked out alright; it was done sparingly and tastefully, and he didn’t seem pompous at all here. Of the other famous interviewees, Sean Penn was really good. Of poets, it was especially nice to see Jack Micheline. (I wonder, though, why the “sexily” posed model photoshopped into the picture on the cover?)
I liked the ongoing segments of Bukowski driving around East Hollywood in a beat up VW Bug with a cracked windshield, filmed on what looks like early videotape, and he’s got an Iron Cross hanging from his mirror to remind himself of his German heritage. The scene of him in the bathroom of the house he grew up in, demonstrating how his father used to beat him, and the way it was framed looked like Kubrick. Bukowski crying as he reads the poem “the shower” was a sudden shock, heart-wrenching actually.
The scene from the Barbet Shroeder tapes where Bukowski semi-attacks his girlfriend (later wife) Linda Lee is unflattering, but it was good to know that there was no whitewashing going on in Born Into This. I had seen this segment before and was wondering if it was going to be in. It had to be, and it was. And the other side of all of that is here too – the Bukowski who could write “the bluebird.” But I think another thing his detractors dislike is the cult of personality involved, the autobiography. I suppose for some people it forces it to be an issue of whether you like the man you perceive Bukowski to be, and some just don’t. Fair enough. But I certainly would’ve had a drink or eight with him if I’d had the chance. This film isn’t quite like being there, but that’s not what is required. It is “like” watching a really good documentary.