Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


The other day, I watched the movie Factotum on the Independent Film Channel. It's based upon the Charles Bukowski novel by the same name. It wasn't much of a movie. The protagonist, Henry Chinaski, bounces from one shitty job to the next. He never keeps any of them for long. He gets fired from each and every one of them, either because he gets fed up and tells the boss to fuck off, or because he goes on a drunken binge and starts missing work. The story's a grim one, and the movie's failure to fully commit to that view of the world is one of its big weaknesses.

Matt Dillon plays Chinaski, and he tries his best. It's obvious that he's done his research. He's got the same way of speaking that Bukowski had, and the same way of holding himself, but that's not enough. In Bukowski's books, the Chinaski character is so down and out that he is beyond despair, and he just doesn't care anymore. Dillon fails to communicate that, probably because it's not something he's ever been familiar with. Then there's the casting problem. Dillon is too much of a pretty boy. Like Bukowski himself, Chinaski is ugly. They should have chosen an actor with more of a downtrodden manner.

As for Bukowski himself, I would argue that he was the last of the Beats. He's of a different generation from guys like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, but the literary project is the same. Not only that, I would also maintain that Bukowski's work represents the deadend of Beat romanticism. What happens if you devote yourself completely to writing, refuse to compromise, and hang with it no matter what? If you're lucky, and you have to be damned lucky, you'll have some success and find a way to earn a living on your writing. If you aren't lucky, you'll end up like Chinaski, leading a skid row sort of life as you bounce from one soul-sucking job to the other. Bukowski saw this too, and embraced it, though he was one of the fortunate ones in the end. In the closing scene, Chinaski talks about how you have to give yourself over to writing, and keep on with it no matter what, even if you end up on the streets, sleeping on park benches. That's a hard road to walk but Bukowski was a man who was prepared to walk it. That's what separates him from his imitators.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home