THE CHARLES BUKOWSKI TAPES (1983).
Years before director Barbet Schroeder filmed Charles Bukowski's script for BARFLY (one of the great films of the '80s), he left us an earlier legacy in the form of this four-hour glimpse into Bukowski's wit, wisdom and wine consumption. Yes, I said FOUR FULL HOURS of one man talking into a camera! Seems excessive, you say? Not when it's one of America's most talented, no-bullshit writers -- pulling acidic humor and streetwise honesty out of his lifetime of liquor. The portrait is broken into 52 numbered passages, ranging anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes each, and most of it was filmed in his living room or from a lawn chair in his backyard. With weathered features and a nose like an irradiated pickle, Bukowski smokes incessantly and has a drink virtually stapled to his hand (usually a Heineken or Becks). Sure, he might seem to some like an old geezer shooting his mouth off -- and I guess he is, come to think of it -- but his words have a beauty and grubby lyricism that cuts to the bone marrow. He's truly the master of barroom tales, tinged in despair, lost love and dipsomania. In addition to reading his verse, Chuck details his history of short-term jobs and how he escaped the 8 hour grind; the type of people who disgust him (i.e. apathetics and Christians); the joys of appearing on talk shows (he compares it to "swallowing your own vomit"); the heavenly dream of a perfect bar; and his overall opinion of mankind ("The more I think of humanity, the less I want to think of them."). The man was definitely opinionated and proud of it -- whether he's putting down marijuana use, nearly beating up his girlfriend on-camera, or brushing off his Guru status amongst the younger generation. And though moments might piss you off or seem pretentious, Bukowski was without a doubt a uniquely gnarled voice -- understanding the writer's desperate need to spew confusion and emotion onto a page in hope of making some sense of it all... Schroeder keeps behind-the-camera technique to a minimum, allowing Bukowski's comical yet honest vignettes to hold our attention. It's a Portrait of the Artist as a Old Drunk, not to mention an incredible, one-of-a-kind document. And if you're like me, you'll find it near-impossible to get through in one sitting -- though not because it didn't hold my interest. You see, if you're popping beers as quickly as Bukowski, you'll pass out, surrounded by your own empties, long before the tapes are over. And that's probably just as he would've wanted it.
© 1993 by Steven Puchalski.