"If the cops are around, something good must be happening."
Charles Bukowski says this with a twinkle in his eye, but knowing what we do about him, he was probably serious. The acclaimed writer, unapologetic alcoholic, and failed misogynist is resurrected in John Dullaghan's Bukowski: Born Into This (Friday, January 14, 8 p.m., Dryden Theatre, 271-4090), a loving warts-and-all look at the patron saint of the hipsters.
Footage from European TV interviews delivers the bulk of Bukowski's own words, which are delivered in his lazy Southern California way that turns hard and violent when mixed with red wine. He smokes tiny brown cigarettes and, like most writers, can spin a good yarn, whether it's about losing his virginity at 24 years old to a 300-pound prostitute or his distasteful experience with the Hollywood machine while inspiring director Barbet Schroeder to make Barfly (which shows Thursday, January 13, at the Dryden).
"If your parents begin to like your work, it's getting bad."
Bukowski gives his unfortunate Depression-era childhood a large amount of the credit/blame for his hardboiled outlook. Daily beatings from his stern father and a face ravaged by a severe form of acne caused young Henry Charles Bukowski to withdraw and start writing at the age of 13 because it was "the easiest thing to do." A heartbreaking story finds him standing outside his prom with his face wrapped in blood-speckled toilet paper, too embarrassed to go inside.
Bukowski's column, "Notes of a Dirty Old Man," ran in couple of alternative Los Angeles papers, and he published a number of volumes of poetry during the time he also worked a soul-sucking post-office job. In 1970, he accepted the patronage of John Martin at the Black Sparrow Press, who persuaded him to quit the post office and paid him $100 per month to spend his time writing. John Martin recounts that when he remarked to Bukowski that a novel might make more money than poetry, Bukowski answered with Post Office, his first semi-autobiographical novel, a few weeks later.
Bukowski's luck with women directly corresponded to his fame, which he notes with a wry resentment. His widow, Linda Lee, looking like a virtual saint herself after seeing footage of him verbally baiting and then kicking her during an interview, discusses her longtime friendship and patience with a troubled yet brilliant man. Bukowski died from leukemia in 1994 at the age of 73, but seemed to have found some peace in the years prior to his death.
The requisite cool celebrities pop up to pay homage and share anecdotes about Bukowski. Sean Penn was a friend, as was Harry Dean Stanton, and musician Tom Waits (none of those associations are at all surprising, incidentally). Bono didn't know him that well, but any chance to listen to an Irishman read poetry should be savored.
Bukowski also once advised a friend to "Drink, write, and fuck." That about sums it --- and him --- up.
In Eugene Green's minimalist fairy tale The Living World (Le Monde Vivant) (Saturday, January 15, 8 p.m., Dryden Theatre, 271-4090) the only way to recognize the knights is by the swords at their side --- their jeans and button-down shirts don't give them away. And the solitary means of identifying the lion is by his ferocious roar; otherwise, he looks surprisingly like a dog.
Nicolas (Adrien Michaux) is traveling through the forest when he first meets up with the Lion Knight (Alexis Loret) and his... um... lion (Sam). The Lion Knight is on the trail of an ogre (Arnold Pasquier) who has imprisoned his beloved (Laurene Cheilan) in a chapel, though his head is turned once he meets the ogre's cooperative wife (Christelle Prot). Nicolas happens upon the chapel and falls for the imprisoned demoiselle as well, setting him off in search of the ogre and the Lion Knight. Duels, fickle chicks, and tasty children abound.
It's your standard tale of daring young men rescuing damsels in distress, but the execution is what makes it so much fun. The choppy fairy-tale language is infused with modern slang ("That's maximus cool.") and it's delivered in such a deadpan way that makes you feel as though you're witnessing the worst acting on the planet or the finest performances ever given.
The film's references to the Jules Ferry laws and French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan will go over the head of at least 90 percent of the audience, so allow me to help: According to my internet research, where everything is true, Jules Ferry is remembered for championing laws that removed Catholic influence from most education in France, and Jacques Lacan was a devotee of Freud who advocated therapy sessions lasting only a few minutes and argued that the ego could not be healed. How does this figure into the film? I'm not sure yet.
The Living World's simple dialogue makes it a great tool for people trying to learn French (if you don't peek at the subtitles), and it should be required viewing for filmmakers who equate a movie's budget with its quality. And though there's one scene of a cartoonish blood geyser, kids who can keep up with the subtitles should dig it as much as the adults.