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Bukowski - Born Into This

Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // March 21, 2006
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Svet Atanasov | posted April 5, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

From a post office worker to one of the most revered American poets whose writings still sound controversial and edgy Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) was a man with an undisputed charm. Or so most women would tell him! Bukowski had quite a different opinion about his looks, his reputation amongst women, and his writings.

Born in Germany in the family of a man who Bukowski will rarely refer to as father the young boy with a face resembling a piece of Swiss cheese would grow up to be one of Los Angeles' most notable poets. Incorrectly associated with the likes of Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti from the notorious Beat Generation Bukowski mastered a most unique style acknowledging the influence of such classic authors as Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, and Louis-Ferdinand Celine. His writings were raw, powerful, and often too explicit.

Tracing the colorful life of the poet John Dullaghan's Bukowski: Born Into This is a collage of interviews, documentary footage, and poetry readings. In it a number of Bukowski's friends and admirers including Bono from U2, Sean Penn, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Waits, and John Martin-the founder of Black Sparrow Press, recall their experiences with the man.

While Born Into This does not attempt to explain what made Bukowski such a sensation as a whole this most interesting documentary manages successfully to link some of the missing pieces in his controversial life. From the uneasy confessions about his father's constant abuse, to the description of his first sexual experience with a 300-pound prostitute, to his addiction for cheap booze, even his desire to commit suicide Bukowski is seen in Born Into This in quite an unusual light. After years of research director John Dullaghan has managed to gather so much information about the controversial poet that at times it becomes almost impossible to separate myth from reality. It is all too overwhelming!

I can hardly think of another film that sheds so much light to the icon Charles Bukowski has evolved into ever since his first poem was published. Just as his writings were raw, unedited, and most intimidating with their honesty Born Into This hits you in the gut with archive footage that brings back to life an era of our history that most young Americans are unaware of. It is indeed so strange to see how painfully honest Bukowski was about everything, from politics to sex, that nowadays we try to water down with cushy calls for political correctness. He saw it, wrote it, and told it as it was!!

Regardless of whether you consider yourself a fan or detractor of Bukowski's work John Dullaghan's Born Into This is an invaluable look at an era from American history that spurred an enormous creative activity. While the film aims to entertain its subject matter most certainly does not. Certainly I wasn't!! In Born Into This there is pain, there is bitterness, there is plenty of nostalgia for a time that nowadays exists only in the history annals and the memories of those who lived it.

Awards/ Nominations:

In 2003 Born Into This was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

How Does the DVD Look?

Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 Born Into This is comprised mostly of archive footage and authentic interviews and readings that shed light on Bukowski's persona. With this in mind it is very difficult for me as a reviewer to follow the same standards I favor when reviewing feature film releases and judge Born Into This. Nevertheless, the footage and original material provided for Born Into This are of very high quality and I could hardly find any faults with the actual presentation. This is a solid and very convincing effort by Magnolia Pictures.

How Does the DVD Sound?

As it was the case with the video presentation the audio mix (an English 2.0 track) is of extremely high queality. The archive footage provided does not exhibit any problems that could detract from your viewing experience. On the contrary I do believe that some of the older interviews actually sound more impressive than what I would have expected to uncover in such dated material. Indeed a stellar presentation! My only complain here is that it would have been nice if the distribs would have provided this DVD with subtitle options in English, French and Spanish (partial English subtitles appear on the print where the quality of the audio during some of the interviews is not quite so clear) as there are plenty of non-English speakers that would look into this release with a great deal of curiosity.


Magnolia Pictures have provided some great supplemental materials for this DVD release. First there is Bukowski's Final Home Movie Footage from 1992 (the footage was shot by Linda Bukowski on February 25th two years before Bukowski's death). In a typical for Bukowski manner the man would read some of his work while having a beer. Next, in a text-only format there is a sneak peek at selected unpublished Bukowski poems titled " Dinosauria, we". Quite a few of these poems are actually heard throughout the film including the title work "Born Into This". Next, there is a short deleted scene called "Blowing my Hero" which follows an experience Bukowski had with one of his young friends. I suppose it is fair to say that the heading explains the nature of this extra quite well (the lady that performed the deed is herein interviewed as well). Next, there is an excellent section of extended interviews with Bono, Linda Bukowski, Taylor Hackford, and Publisher John Martin where they share thoughts regarding the manner in which Bukowski influenced their lives. This is quite a fascinating piece of extra indeed. Next, there are two very short poetry readings: one by Bono and one by Tom Waits. Next, there is a rather standard Behind the Scenes featurette which explores the filming process of "Born Into This". Nothing really unusual yet a great look at the effort that went into this project. Next, there is a marvelous commentary with the director of the film John Dullaghan where he goes into great detail explaining his passion for this project, his admiration for Charles Bukowski, how his poems influenced his life, how Born Into This materialized, and the time it took him to collect the archive material. Just a great, great commentary by this gifted director! Last but not least there is a graphic-photo list with Charles Bukowski's poems.

Final Thoughts:

I can not recommend highly enough this astonishing documentary. If you ever wanted to dive deep into the world of a man who created as many passionate admirers as he inspired dedicated haters then Born Into This is it. This is indeed quite an ambitious project. The DVD on the other hand offers plenty of extra material that will surely meet the expectations even on the most demanding of viewers. I would like to commend Magnolia Pictures for providing yet again a great and of extremely high quality DVD package: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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