by Charles Bukowski
In a famous poem ("questions and answer") Charles Bukowski asked, "who the hell is going to save me?" Pragmatist as he was (as rendered in this biographical presentation of his life), he responds, "you're going to have to save yourself." Perhaps that's why he lived, despite the world of drunkenness in which he revelled, to the grand old age of 74. Maybe, too, it was all that sex.
According to this version of the writer by Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer with co-writer and producer Jim Stark ("Coffee and Cigarettes"), adapted from Bukowski's 2nd novel (1975), Hank Chinaski (Matt Dillon as Bukowski) was as much a sexual being as a liquored one, sharing much of his days and nights with fellow habitue' of the tavern Jan (Lili Taylor) and, in his narration track, praising her for her body and lusty appetite.
Once split from her, Laura (Marisa Tomei) enters the picture for a brief change of pace and passion and an eventual return to Jan for a 2nd tryout after a disastrous interlude with his parents.
Quite a bit more than Hank changed women, he changed jobs. With no special training he sought and acquired many that didn't require much more than a little intelligence but, as his own worst enemy, he was lucky to hang on to one for more than a few days. Hence he was your general factotum (An employee or assistant who serves in a wide range of capacities.)
But his real job, done in the spaces of his unsteady life, was writing and submitting, writing and submitting, finally getting a poem accepted in the last stretches of this movie, which actually occurred in 1944 at age 24. His life and outpouring continued, and he went on to a large body of work and recognition as a Los Angeles poet and novelist of fifty some works.
Though Bukowski wrote contemporaneously with the Beat Generation writers, and in a somewhat sypathetic style (rambling, streaming, utterly self-absorbed) and attitude (complaining, iconoclastic), the association is considered mistaken by many experts. Not a traveler, his subject was himself, clearly in the setting of his adopted home towns of Los Angeles and San Pedro. He was born in Andernach, Germany, brought to L.A. at age two, and took courses at L.A. City College (my own alma mater) in art, journalism and literature.
Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer demonstrated a taste for expressionless humor and social satire in his 2003 "Kitchen Stories," and employs a repeated sense of understatement in this expose of the writer--though the palette and the cast are representative of entirely different territories. Still, his taste for this subject, and the opportunity to make his film in the States (NY standing in for L.A., looks like) rather than, say, Oslo, counts for a promising wrinkle in his career as an arthouse auteur. What he's turned out here, however, doesn't yet put anything mainstream in sight.
No question that the cast got on his character-loving wavelength, with Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei turning in portrayals of suitable earnestness, with Dillon bringing out the element of kooky impulsiveness of his man. My primary quibble is that it's almost too much like the product of its subject, dire, morose, aimless, self-unimprovable, repetitive and drama-challenged (speaking strictly for myself and my limited literary tastes, that is). But, then, it's probably no worse than many a film bio, and hot actors who take on such roles from the lower depths of budget funding and commercial stimulation, for the sake of bringing an esoteric artist like Bukowski to our attention, are to be praised.
~~ Jules Brenner Cinema Signals