|HOW TO FRAME CHARLES BUKOWSKI'S BROKEN HEART.|
|"Your life is your life.
Don't let it be clubbed into dank submission, be on the watch. There are
Those lines from Charles Bukowski's poem "The Laughing Heart" seared the brain of a very impressionable 32-year-old John Dullaghan almost ten years ago. Although a new father and a successful advertising copy writer, Dullaghan sought to reinvigorate
and reprioritize his life. It was a balls-on-the-scale moment for Dullaghan and after two years of thinking about it he promptly unzipped, sacked-up, quit his full-time job and took to his new path: One that's lead him to a privileged glimpse into the life of literature's infamous dirty old man.
Charles Bukowski has many awestruck sycophants (Dullaghan admittedly one of them), but there are also those who find his work revolting -- they can't get past the hard-drinking, pornographic, misogynistic bully who has seemingly built a career on self-destruction. Although many of his stories and poems do corroborate that persona, what seems to resonate most with his fans, both male and female, is Bukowski's
graceful ability to frame a broken heart.
Fully financed by Dullaghan through freelance copy writing and his personal stock market money, Born Into This, distributed by Magnolia Pictures, is not just a documentary about Bukowski, but also a love letter from the resilient filmmaker to rut-stuck dreamers everywhere. Dullaghan spent seven years traveling the world for research materials to complete this project. What started as a chance meeting with the author's wife Linda Lee Bukowski in 1997 at a poetry reading in San Pedro, Calif., turned into a consummation of both his passion for Bukowski and his desire to make his own life more fulfilled. You can read the full story about how the film came about here. In 2003, the film was accepted by Sundance and, finally, is slowly being released in theaters throughout the country. Born Into This not only includes exclusive interviews with fans and friends such as Sean Penn, Bono, and Harry Dean Stanton, but also shows rare and sometimes harrowing personal footage (there's a scene in the film of Bukowski fighting with Linda in a drunken rage and then kicking her of their couch) that's yet to be widely shown in the United States.
The film opens in New York today.
John Dullaghan spoke with the Black Table about the film.
BT: Was there a learning process as you went along with the filming? Like did you have an impression of Bukowski from reading all of his work that you tried to incorporate into the film or did you separate it and or did you learn about him as you went?
JD: That's a really important point. I read all the books initially and you can't -- especially with somebody who's created a myth about
|themselves largely based on truth -- but he gives emphasis to certain things over others. He wasn't a reporter. It's a novel. It was subjective. He gave weight to certain things. To find out what the truth was or to find alternate views about his life took a lot of digging. Basically, the educational process is broken into four sections: elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. So the reason for that is the education experts have determined that it takes 4 years is a sufficient period to really develop mastery over a subject. And it took about four years for me before I really felt comfortable talking about Bukowski to people who really knew him. Now, it eventually got to a point where I would talk to people about him and knew before|
|they answered how they would
respond -- I'd interviewed about 140 people by that time. I tried to go
in with a whole lot of prejudice, but I really loved his writing, but I
didn't want to write the film at the beginning so I went where the material
took me and so I did learn as I go and really learned something special
and by the end of the film I felt like I had a good grasp of who this guy
BT: Was there an anecdote or something that you uncovered while
filming that you found completely unexpected about Bukowski?
JD: The things that really surprised me were -- there's this crying scene in the film -- you know, this extreme emotion. There was also a meanness there that surprised me I didn't want to hear about. But that meanness was there. He would get drunk at parties and really drill into people. He would do this type of thing:
There was a party at his house and there was a young actor guy there -- Bukowski didn't want to be around this kid; a good looking, soft-face type. Bukowski looked at him and said "What do you do, man?" and the kid said "I'm an actor." And Bukowski looked at him and took a hit of his cigarette -- and this is in a roomful of people -- and says "You'll never make it." The kid asks "Well why?" and Bukowski says "Because your eyes are dead." The kid's life was now pronounced upon by Bukowski. And he would really drill into people in a mean way and I heard those stories that I didn't like hearing, or appreciate, but they were there. One thing that was revealing to me was there seemed to be a lot of anger, but toward the end of his life while battling through the leukemia and the medication he was on I think he gained some general acceptance about life through his poetry and other things. If depression is anger turned inward well, let's just say there was a lot of darkness to him. I think some of that abated when he quit the drinking and he just sort of accepted life and fought with it more toward the end.
But, I really like the positive part of him. A lot of people -- especially when people first read him -- will say 'Well, shit what's the positive? He was a bastard. He was a negative dude.' But look at his life. He was the only poet who survived on his poetry by itself. He didn't do the readings or much publicity like Allen Ginsberg did. He survived and he did it on his own terms and really didn't sell himself out I don't think. He's one of the artists that people like Tom Waits and Sean Penn and Bono and others who look at him like a Robert Altman, a John Lennon and Bob Marley, who are people that take risks. Those get knocked down for it, they don't make nearly as much money as they would if they did something safer or more popular, but that's
who they are. He's a guiding light for other writers and musicians and artists to stay true to who you are and stay true to your work and don't sell out--you know, stay the course. I think he inspires a lot of other artists and writers.
BT: Do you think his legend exceeds his writing talent? It seems like many people are drawn to him because of the dirty old man persona. Do you think his work and his legend complement each other?
JD: I think that character, that iconic character is a blessing and a
curse. For some people, this hard-drinking, tough Hemmingway figure is enormously appealing and there are younger guys who want to be like that and tell society to shove it up their ass and live life on their own terms. Yet, at the same time, there are people who are older who are more serious in their lives that seem to not like that about him. For me, early on in life, I didn't really hook into Bukowski, but I would've been attracted to that iconic, kind of tough character, that's what attracted me to the Beat writers. Now as an older guy -- I'm 42 -- I hooked into Bukowski in my 30s, it was the guy who was toward the end of his life searching for the meaning of it all and reflecting on what it's all about and trying to find his own sanity in the chaos. There are different sides to Bukowski and he mirrors what's going on in you. So he's a reflection of the reader. So depending on where you're at in life, that's the Bukowski that you're going to be attracted to.
BT: So what was a strong motivation behind this film? Your attraction to that side of him?
JD: I believed in Bukowski's work. There's a lot of crap out there in the media -- and people may say that about my film and that's fine -- but I think there's a lot of unhealthy, unhelpful stuff out there to distract us. I felt that I knew how important Bukowski's message was to me and how important it was and I thought that by making a film and getting that message out there I thought it would really help people and if it really affected somebody deeply -- like me, for instance -- that it would affect a whole lot of people. And the more people I interviewed and the more research I did the more I saw folks who were really touched by his work and that's what really kept me going. I do truly think he's one of our great artists -- he's not a cartoon character to me and he's not the dirty old man. You've got to look at it in context. And unfortunately I feel like he's remembered more for that in America than he is overseas.
BT: It seems that there are different accounts of how Bukowski felt about the movie Barfly with Mickey Rourke. On some accounts he liked it, others not. Did you uncover the truth about how he felt?
JD: I talked to Barbet (Shroeder, Barfly director) and talked to Linda Bukowski a lot and she's the one who really knew how he felt. And, basically, he wrote the novel "Hollywood" about the making of Barfly. In "Hollywood" he's very generous and very kind to Barbet and Mickey Rourke and to everybody. He was pushing the film. There are portions where Bukowski talks about how the film is going to be immortal and I think he believed that at the time -- you know part of it is that fact about how the latest thing you're working on, you think it's the best goddamn thing you've ever done and that the world's ever seen and I think that's part of being human and he wanted to support Barbet and he was going to push it as much as he could. But after the dust settled, I mean he didn't really think much of it. He didn't like it. I have it on tape where he says "Barbet dropped the ball." I didn't put it in the film, but that's what he said. He talks about Mickey Rourke and how he feels he didn't really capture it. Here's the thing: Barfly is a work of fiction. It's Barbet's vision, it's Mickey Rourke's vision. So, I don't think it's fair to judge it in biographical terms. Now, that's how Bukowski judged it. I thought it was an okay film. I think in terms of Mickey Rourke portraying Bukowski -- he portrays him like the cartoon character. And I didn't think it was Bukowski's best piece of writing anyway. Now, Sean Penn thought it was a brilliant screenplay and he really wanted to do it.
BT: Why didn't Sean Penn do it?
JD: The project originated from Barbet. He'd contacted Bukowski in the late 70s and asked if he would do this film and he hired Bukowski to write the screenplay, which he did. A few years down the road, Sean Penn reads it and says 'Yeah I want to be in it -- but I want Dennis Hopper to direct it.' But Barbet was the director; it was his baby, his project. So, Bukowski said to Sean 'Hey, Barbet's directing it, it's his film, so how can I take that away from him ". So, Sean Penn said forget it because his loyalties were with Dennis Hopper. So Sean Penn thought it was somewhat unfair because by him becoming associated with the project it gained momentum again and that's where Mickey Rourke heard about it and signed on.
BT: So was it still fun doing this project given all that you sacrificed to do it?
JD: Man, it's great. Being able to interview people like Sean Penn and everybody else involved -- it was so much fun and I learned they're exceptional people and it was so great just rapping with them. It was amazing. I mean, imagine it's your first film and getting to meet with Bono and direct him and show him how to read a poem -- you just don't get to do that all the time, so you just got to love it. There were highpoints like that throughout making it and then you get to Sundance and then we got a distributor and now it's in theaters and you walk up to the theater and there it is under the lights (deep breath) I never dreamed I'd ever be able to experience that.
Born Into This opens today in New York City at Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street.