Dirty old man on DVD

Bukowski: Born into This

Charles Bukowski is one of those writers. Either you think he’s the greatest, or you write him off as an absolute piece of shit. If you’re on the “not a piece of shit” side of the fence, the documentary Bukowski: Born into This might be right up your alley.

Like many people, I first learned of Bukowski from watching Barfly, for which he wrote the screenplay. His large body of poetry and prose offered additional insights but always left me wondering how much these tales of drunken brawling, womanizing and self-degradation were just a put-on. John Dullaghan’s 2003 documentary, just released on DVD, manages to dig up a treasure trove of long lost home movies, interviews and performance footage to help clear things up.

A particularly priceless segment from 1972 features Bukowski backstage before a reading at San Francisco’s legendary City Lights bookstore, begging for a pot to puke in, barfing his guts out and taking the microphone in front of hundreds of fans. “One more beer, and I’ll take you all on!” he yells at the audience. In another high point from a few years later, Buk tells the story of his first sexual experience, with a 300-pound hooker he met in a bar, and waking up the next morning in a broken bed.

Bono, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Waits and Sean Penn offer up some love for Bukowski’s work, and the wide variety of footage from the ’70s through the ’90s coheres into an easy-to-watch and entertaining look at the misanthropic genius.

If you’re a fan, you’ll love this DVD. If not, well, it’s still a fascinating portrait of a hard-living American literary legend. And priced at under $20 on Amazon.com, it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding than watching a bunch of penguins walk around.