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Monday, August 14, 2006

Back a day early...Factotum fears…It’s never as good as the book…Sacred texts getting the Hollywood treatment…On Bukowski…

I'm back to the blog a day earlier than planned.

The last post before I went on my brief hiatus featured a quotation from Hunter S. Thompson, one of my favorite writers. I’m starting up again right where I left off. I promise to get this blog back on the content writing and copywriting industry, but first I have to spend a few minutes on another of my favorites, Charles Bukowski.

Although I think it has been completed for over a year, a new movie is being released this month: Factotum. It’s derived from the Bukowski novel of the same title. Matt Dillon is playing Bukowski‘s alter-ego protaganist Henry Chinaski. No, seriously. The same Matt Dillon adolescent girls once swooned over back in The Outsiders days portrays the grizzled, acne-scarred author.

I know Matt Dillon has come a long way from The Flamingo Kid. I haven’t seen Crash, but I heard he was great. I can think of a few other Dillon movies that I enjoyed, including Drugstore Cowboy. Seriously, though, how can you not have reservations about a movie who plans to feature a former teen heartthrob as a thinly-disguised version of Bukowski. Dillon first, then Bukowski:

That’s a stretch.

The movie might clear that hurdle. And to be honest, it isn’t really fair of me to get too worked up over Dillon. After all, Barfly was my introduction to Bukowski/Chinaski and that particular 1987 flick featured Mickey Rourke, who actually acted with Dillon in Rumble Fish, which like The Outsiders is an adaptation of a teen novel by SE Hinton. Rourke, however, was never the pretty boy Dillon was. Plus, they dirtied him up for Barfly:

The whole Matt Dillon thing is only one of my worries, however. I am, not surprisingly, suffering from the “it won’t be as good as the book” blues. We all know that feeling. You loved the book, you see the movie, you leave incredibly disappointed.

That’s always a drag, but it means a little more than usual for me with this one.

I’ve always had an inkling that I’d like to be a writer, but I had reservations. Writers, part of me believed, produced masterpieces with flawless punctuation, a soft lyrical beauty and a certain ethereal eloquence. I didn’t know if I could do that but I was certain that I didn’t want to try. I felt that kind of thing would be dishonest coming from me.

Somewhere along the line, I found Bukowski, Thompson, Fante (via Bukowski) and a handful of other saltier, more bare-boned writers who helped flip a switch inside my head. Books like Factotum aren’t just things I like to read. They helped re-shape my very relationship with reading, words and writing.

All of us have books, songs or movies that we relate to on that deeper level and we begin to feel like we own them as much as the author or anyone else. They are part of us and the idea of someone tinkering around with them is a lot like having them reach a hand into our guts. It’s a trespass. It feels wrong and dangerous.

Another weird side effect of loving a book is that you adopt the writer. At least I do. I feel an obligation to protect and explain those writers who mean something to me. Just ask my wife. I was crestfallen and delivered a long extemporaneous explanation of why Milan Kundera was so wonderful after she put down my copy of Immortality and said she didn’t really care for it. I rallied to the old Czech’s defense as if I was being personally assailed.

With Bukowski, I really get that urge because I think he’s misunderstood. I think people, including both his offended critics and many of his wannabe gin-soaked fans, take him at face value.

The critics see him as a foul-mouthed, drunk brute with a typewriter, pounding out profane poems as a way of fueling an anti-social lifestyle. To them, he’s a dirty-mouthed hack with tendencies toward violence and misogyny so dripping with excess machismo that he must be compensating for something. He’s a lowlife.

Some fans portray him as an iconoclastic outsider who told the literary world to stick it. He’s a devil-may-care rebel who wouldn’t live by the rules. He’s the animal they’d like to be and they celebrate his hard living, gutter time and dry heaves as some sort of path to a higher truth.

I see him as being more complicated than the caricature. I see Chinaski as what a somewhat frightened and vulnerable Bukowski probably wanted to be, in some ways. That ugly kid with the abusive dad and lousy childhood probably did find comfort in self-destruction and undoubtedly wanted to be even tougher, stripped down and animalistic. Chinaski does the things Bukowski really did, only in an exaggerated fashion and with what was probably a very different internal dialog than the one the real Bukowski had.

Bukowski read the classics. Even though he had little patience for the mendacity of the literary world, he knew it inside and out. His inspirations may have been rooted in a world of crappy bars, flophouses and prostitutes, but they were manifested on the page because he knew how to write and took his work seriously. When opportunity finally started knocking, Bukowski married and moved into a real two-story house with a writing room on the second floor and wrote some more introspective pieces that tell us he knew both more and less than he let on during his rough and tumble years. He never escaped his bad habits, but he did manage to let the living version of Chinaski-lite grow up.

I hate the fact that his talents are too often overshadowed by his legend. Bukowski is a patron saint for drunks who want to write and be tough. Whatever. He should be treated seriously as a writer because he was a damn good one.

So, here comes Factotum and I have to wonder what a two-hour Matt Dillon movie is going to do in terms of others’ understanding of Bukowski. Some fans are going to watch it, buy the cheapest bottle of whiskey they can, go home, pretend they’re somewhere near skid row, and churn out some really bad copycat poetry that they mistakenly believe will channel Bukowski because it mentions getting loaded and finding a “whore.” Others will leave theaters wondering what anyone can find redeeming in that pathetic loser. Chinaski and Bukowski will continue to blur.

In anticipation of feeling the need to shout out in Bukowski’s defense, I am writing this pre-emotively, I guess.

The early reviews of Factotum are great. Critics love Dillon. They find the vignette-style direction fantastic. From all accounts, it should be a good movie. I’ll go. I promise my review won’t be as long as this pre-review.

Gamblers All by Charles Bukowski

sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think,
I'm not going to make it, but you laugh inside
remembering all the times you've felt that way, and
you walk to the bathroom, do your toilet, see that face
in the mirror, oh my oh my oh my, but you comb your hair anyway,
get into your street clothes, feed the cats, fetch the
newspaper of horror, place it on the coffee table, kiss your
wife goodbye, and then you are backing the car out into life itself,
like millions of others you enter the arena once more.

you are on the freeway threading through traffic now,
moving both towards something and towards nothing at all as you punch
the radio on and get Mozart, which is something, and you will somehow
get through the slow days and the busy days and the dull
days and the hateful days and the rare days, all both so delightful
and so disappointing because
we are all so alike and so different.

you find the turn-off, drive through the most dangerous
part of town, feel momentarily wonderful as Mozart works
his way into your brain and slides down along your bones and
out through your shoes.

it's been a tough fight worth fighting
as we all drive along
betting on another day.

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