In the documentary Bukowski: Born Into This, many interview subjects imitate Charles Bukowski's distinctive speaking style, a low, slow growl befitting the weariness the writer channeled into his work. It's as if they wanted to be Bukowski, and who wouldn't? His writing made alcoholism look chic.
Frequently riveting, Bukowski: Born Into This blends the reminiscences of colleagues and friends with footage of Bukowski reading poetry and being interviewed by rapt Europeans. More than most writers of his time, Bukowski inspired a fervently devoted cadre of admirers, and his following thrives 10 years after his death in 1994 at age 73. The film, directed by John Dullaghan, seems aimed at these minions, so casual viewers looking for a nuanced critique of Bukowski's writing won't get one from interviews with the likes of Bono, Sean Penn and Tom Waits, who declares Bukowski the writer of the century.
Hyperbole aside, Bukowski's story is fascinating. He grew up in Los Angeles and was raised by an abusive father and an indifferent mother. As a young adult, Bukowski lived itinerantly for a time, then settled back in Los Angeles, where he worked at the post office, drank prodigiously and bet on the horses. At once alcoholic and workaholic, Bukowski also wrote, day after day.
His writings in alternative newspapers and tiny literary magazines caught the attention of businessman John Martin, who started the Black Sparrow Press in order to publish Bukowski. His reputation grew along with his sales, and by the end of his life he was married and comfortably ensconced in a Los Angeles suburb; he was also, we're told, drinking altogether less. It's a disarmingly happy ending, except that in a relatively late interview, a drunken Bukowski is seen savagely berating and kicking his wife. Violence begets violence.