Pedro Blas Gonzalez
Bukowski: Born Into This – Charles Bukowski
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Charles Bukowski was a solitary man and a courageous writer. Without daddy’s money to deliver him into high places or the protective cloak of a godfather, Hank forged his way through the world with the sweat of his brow and the calluses on his hands.
Perhaps the greatest compliment that his readers can afford him is that of being a self-made man. Publishing houses, literary magazines – or otherwise – and academic circles are all rife with opportunists, an unlimited supply of self-promoters, bigots and moral lilliputians. These are all fine examples of the relative and selective relativism that defines the radicalism of late-modernity. Bukowski felt the wrath of all of these entities throughout his life. But he had talent, and the rest, as they say is history.
Bukowski’s story is one of genuine sentiment, determination and a stubborn will that refused to become objectified by the resistance that the world offers all true visionaries. He went at it alone. An underground, cult writer who did not readily attain popular acclaim until the last decade of his life, Bukoswki’s body of work is a testament to the working man – not the straw one that is prostituted as a “theoretical” entity – but rather one that like Eric Hoffer, actually worked for a living. He was born in Andernach, Germany in 1920.
When asked when he realized he was a writer, he answered: “Nobody ever realizes they’re a writer. They only think they’re a writer.” He began writing when he was thirteen years of age. He continues, “I just found a pencil and I started writing. And I filled this notebook full of words. This was the first time the mechanism exposed itself.”
Bukowski: Born Into This is a documentary that follows the trajectory of the writer’s life until his death in 1994. Directed by John Dullaghan, what we encounter in this film is an unadulterated and edgy look at the writer of Post Office, Women, Factotum, and Hot Water Music.
The film follows Bukowski through the 1940s as he traveled the country gathering life experiences, through his initial attempt at journalism in L.A. City College, his poetry readings at San Francisco’s City Lights Poets Theater, the women in his life and culminating with the final months of his life. We witness Bukowski reading a poem that touches any sentient person’s nerves: “It’s not the large things that send a man to a madhouse. Death, he is ready for, or, murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood. No. It’s the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to a madhouse…”
Whatever we come to think of the man, he readily acknowledges that the best compliment he can receive is that he was “a good duker.” Taking the exigencies of life in the chin, he never backed down from adversity. In the end, we are reminded that, “What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire.” This is the true-to-life wisdom of a man who lived out a very difficult dream, and one who never came close to benefiting from a silver spoon.
The film takes the major events of Bukowski’s life and makes them bare. The viewer is treated to the story of his first published works in Harlequin Magazine, its editor, Barbara Fry later becoming his wife. We also witness the hard times, how he lived on one candy bar per day. We come upon Bukowski’s resolve never to quit even though he encountered rejection after rejection. Consider his wisdom as displayed in his poem Oh, Yes: “There are worse things than being alone but it often takes decades to realize this…and there’s nothing worse than too late.”
We also laugh along with Bukowski’s stubborn refusal to be anything but his own man. His struggles with the now well-known U.S. Post Office job that he took in 1952, his having to work evenings, and his will to write during the morning. Admirable too, is his relentless will – sending out poems daily and getting rejected – while he earned his living as a truck driver.
Bukowski was rich in worldly knowledge. Consider his well-adjusted, don’t-tell-me-bedtime-stories understanding evident in the following lines: “There is enough treachery, hatred, violence, absurdity in the average human being to supply any given army on any given day. And the best at murder are those who preach against it. And the best at hate are those who preach love. And the best at war – finally – are those who preach peace…”
Bukowski had very little patience for laziness and people who do not meet the difficulties and demands of life head on. He disliked hippies because of their bourgeois, pampered refusal to get their hands soiled by work. His upbringing during the depression had given him a sound appreciation of the toil that people who do not cut corners undergo throughout their lives. Bukowski suffered a great deal from the resistance offered him by naysayers. His Notes of a Dirty Old Man columns first appeared in a little magazine called Open City. When this folded in 1969, he continued his column in the L.A. Free Press.
Finally achieving critical and financial success in the last decade of his life – his major break coming at the hands of John Martin, publisher of Black Sparrow Press – we are privy to the life changes that the older writer underwent. No longer as tense and defensive as he once was, Bukowski now seems more introverted, the wisdom that he earned now being something that he kept to himself. At the end of the documentary we do not see the effects of his alcohol-induced profanity any longer, as that persona is slowly put to rest. In the end we watch him dealing with leukemia, which eventually took his life – an episode that his readers will easily recognize in the interplay that takes place between “lady death” and the protagonist in his last novel, Pulp.