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Bukowski: Born into This Reviews

John Dullaghan's years-in-the-making documentary about poet and novelist Charles Bukowski (1920-94) documents the quick-tempered writer's meandering journey from miserable childhood through hardscrabble adulthood to comfy late-life acclaim. By turns profane, vulgar, unpredictable, scabrous and perpetually somewhere between buzzed and three sheets to the wind, Bukowski opened a window onto a fringe world of blue-collar drudgery and alcoholic self-obliteration with his blistering, bleakly comic dispatches from the gutter. Raised in California, Bukowski was brutalized by his father and disfigured by an almost surreally virulent case of acne; he spent the bulk of the 1940s drifting across the U.S., working menial jobs and living in cheap rooming houses, collecting rejection slips and warming barstools. Bukowski eventually returned to California and found a series of equally hard-drinking girlfriends and a soul-destroying gig at the Post Office. Bukowski married, divorced, had a daughter; he sold pieces to literary magazines and later wrote a newspaper column for L.A. Weekly. Ironically, Bukowski found his first substantial audience in the 1960s counterculture, which he hated with a working stiff's venom. In 1970, book collector John Martin made Bukowski a life-changing offer: A monthly stipend that allowed him to quit sorting mail and write full-time; in return, Bukowski published exclusively with Martin's Black Sparrow Press. From the 1970s forward, Dullaghan was able to mine a rich vein of filmed Bukowski interviews, including revealing footage by — of all people — a young Taylor Hackford (AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN). Clearly a fan, Dullaghan seeks out footage that reveals Bukowski's softer side, but doesn't whitewash his faults. One nasty snippet shot by Barbet Schroeder (whose 1987 BARFLY helped bring Bukowski still wider recognition) of the aging hellion suddenly and viciously turning on his loyal girlfriend (and later wife) Linda, is a bracing reminder that a brilliant son of a bitch is still a son of a bitch.