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A documentary portrait of the American writer Charles Bukowski, born in 1920. An instinctive rebel and long-term alcoholic, Bukowski spent his early manhood as a drifter working a variety of minimum-wage jobs. In his thirties, he settled down to life as a full-time postal employee while continuing to write. Finally in the 1960s the directness and anarchic spirit of his autobiographical poetry won him a widespread cult following that remains strong today.

Review by Jake Wilson:
Watching archival footage of Charles Bukowski, what registers most immediately is his massive physical ugliness, the sheer animal misery in his shambling gait and scarred face like a defeated ogre. His appearance lends conviction to the maudlin stories we hear him tell about his own life: how he was beaten three times a week through much of his childhood, how he felt rejected by women and remained a virgin till his mid-twenties, how he worked for decades in menial jobs while slaving through the evenings in the hope of one day becoming a published writer.
You can understand why in prose and poetry he devoted himself to telling the other side of the story, his own self-justifying myth: the battered but steadfast rebel, the recklessly prolific foe of academic standards, the epic drinker, gambler, fighter and lover of women. Bukowski was no hippie - far from it - but it's understandable too how starting from the 1960s this outsider became an improbable success story, royalty cheques pouring in, celebrities knocking on the door, blundering through talk show appearances and a Hollywood movie of his life before retirement with his final girlfriend to a mansion in San Pedro, California, where they grow the wine.
"Beware those quick to praise," he wrote, in perhaps the most memorable of the poems included in this documentary. "Beware the average man, the average woman, beware their love." To the end, no doubt, he was torn between his innate distrust of the crowd and his yearning for acceptance, remaining obsessed with the figure of the writer as martyr as well as understandably touchy about insinuations he'd gone soft. But it's hard to grudge him his happy ending, which he surely earned and seems to have enjoyed - while occasionally shaking his head at the fervour of his more innocent admirers, all of them rebels and non-conformists just like him.
The question remains, how far was he a real poet? His self-dramatising gestures weren't new and I'm not convinced that his lack of interest in language was an asset, but he could express himself clearly and tell a story, which is less faint praise than it sounds. A movie like this, made from the uncritical fan viewpoint, isn't much help in tracing his contradictions or separating the genuine merits of his work from the kitsch. The most telling comparison is with Terry Zwigoff's film about onetime Bukowski illustrator Robert Crumb: a sharper portrait of a far more original "underground" figure. Still, Bukowski had pity for others as well as himself, and was loved, despite everything, by many who knew him: he was on the right side, and it seems just that he should be remembered.

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(US, 2003)

CAST: Documentary featuring Charles Bukowski (archival), Bono, John Bryan, Linda Lee Bukowski, Michael Cano, and others

PRODUCER: Diane Markow, John McCormick

DIRECTOR: John Dullaghan

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matt Mindlin, Art Simon

EDITOR: Victor Livingston

MUSIC: James Stemple

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes



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