Having been a Bukowski fan for years, but not of the obsessive kind, it's no surprise that I've seen very little footage of the man himself, or even the movie that he wrote based on his life, Barfly. So Bukowski at Bellevue (the Community College and NOT the Sanitarium) came as something of a revelation. By no means a handsome man, I found that I couldn't take my eyes off the screen during the 60 minute running time. Recorded in 1970 with two B&W video cameras by some students, the DVD captures him in all his working-class glory, but then went missing for over 18 years.
The crude, ravaged, B&W archival video is akin to a time capsule, showing the man, in only his fourth ever, public reading, with a masterful command of not only his letters, but his voice and presence as well. Speaking of presence, one cannot help but look at Bukowski, tattered and torn, with his grim visage and gravelly voice and see a precursor to another modern bard, Tom Waits. If Waits wasn't such a force in his own right, than calls of imitator would be just, but his own body of work is just as prodigious, if not yet as recognized as Bukowski's. Still, the similarities are too many to catalog, and I feel myself playing the "separated at birth" game in my head with these two cultural forces.
Dressed in a cheap shirt and black pants, it's a rare opportunity to see Bukowski read a dozen of his poems, giving unnatural life to the Losers and Lovers, the Skid Row Bums and Back Alley Prostitutes of his works. There are no fancy camera moves, and the stock itself has seen much better days, with it's shaky, scratched and grainy image, but the power of seeing this literary legend, this "ravaged lion" (his own words) is to great to nit-pick such details. As long as the soundtrack is there to bring his words to your ears is all that matters.
Poems included on this DVD are:
Soup, Cosmos and Tears
I Think of the Little Men
My Father Was…
The Night I Killed Tommy
A Last Shot on Two Good Horses
Drawing of a Band Concert on a Matchbook Cover
Kaakaa and Other Immolations
I Wanted to Overthrow the Government
Fire Station (For Jane With Love)
Something for The Touts, The Nuns, The Grocery Clerks, and You
Picture: Sadly, the B&W video that this reading was recorded on has degraded a lot over the years and Eclectic Video, who distributed this DVD did as much restoration as was possible before transferring it to DVD. It's a Full Screen presentation with some occasional jitters and pauses, as well as, lots of scratches and grain on the image.
Audio: This DVD features a 2.0 Mono Soundtrack, which sounds fine for the material.
Extras: The only extra included on this DVD is a scan of a note that Bukowski wrote to the organizer of this reading..
Conclusion: This is probably the only DVD I can see literary people running out to buy, since it's impact and quality is not in it's video or audio presentation, but (GASP!) the quality of the material presented herein. For anyone that has seen the Charles Bukowski documentary, Born Into This, this DVD would make a great companion piece to this newer work. For fans, I would not hesitate to buy Bukowski at Bellevue, but for the merely curious, a rental should suffice.