In the spring of 1970, Charles Bukowski ventured from his seedy East Hollywood apartment to an engagement at Bellevue Community College in Bellevue, Washington, where he was invited to read from his provocative short stories. The reading was videotaped by college students and, sadly, their names were not recorded.
The videotape, presented as the DVD “Bukowski at Bellevue,” is technically the crudest product placed on the market. Bukowski was shot in a ghastly black-and-white which is a bit blurred and which often freezes in mid-frame. The soundtrack is clear and not interrupted by technical glitches, although ambient sounds echo out of frame. Bukowski himself doesn’t help the visual presentation: he remains seated, mostly reading from manuscripts while barely looking up to his audience.
Yet the writer’s recitations, delivered in a steady yet sardonic manner, beautifully frame the weird, haunting images of his stories. His classic offerings “Soup, Cosmos and Tears,” “The Lesbian,” “The Night I Killed Tommy” and “I Wanted to Overthrow the Government” resonate with an uncommon agility and style. Bukowski’s speaking voice was as playful and lethal as his command of the written word, and it is difficult to imagine anyone else bringing such vibrancy and thrust to a spoken-word presentation of his canon.
If you are a fan of Bukowski and can overlook the severe technical limitations of this rare videotaped event, this DVD is a must-have.