A portrait of the artist as a drunken, deadbeat bum: John Dullaghan's thrilling documentary about the life and times of Charles Bukowski is the stuff that legends are made of. The Walt Whitman of America's Skid Row, Bukowski was a boozing, womanising blue-collar barfly who spent as much time sucking on a beer bottle as hammering the typewriter. When he found his alcoholic muse, though, he produced some of the finest novels in 20th century American literature.
Following the author's death in 1994, Dullaghan pieced together a suitably down-at-heel documentary about America's premier low life scribbler. It's a booze-soaked, dirty-looking piece, full of black and white footage of Bukowski that's interspersed with some eloquent talking heads (famous faces including actors Harry Dean Stanton and Sean Penn).
The film covers all the usual bases of Bukowski's now mythic career, from the years he spent working in the post office to his womanising, and the stream of rejections from publishers. Yet it also gives a remarkable insight into the man himself. Straight to camera interviews with "Hank" (as he preferred to be called) capture him in various states of drunken lucidity. The threat of violence is always present, as when a public reading is halted after Bukowski verbally attacks a heckler, and an interview falling apart when he starts beating up his long-suffering girlfriend in a sudden explosion of rage.
Ultimately, it's the prose that holds the film together. Read aloud by the author, transcribed on screen, or recited by others, Bukowski's writing captures the abject misery of life at the inglorious end of American Splendor. Eat your heart out Harvey Pekar.