For a first time filmmaker who only turned on to Charles Bukowski about 10 years ago, John Dullaghan’s Bukowski: Born Into This presents just about everything you want to know about the legendary poet. The film is a dream come true for Bukowski fans, comprised of over two hours of candid interviews and prime Bukowski debauchery. The film even reveals sides of the man you may not have thought existed.
Filmmaker John Dullaghan took some time with us in Park City to talk about his Bukowski obsession and the struggle it took to bring this legend to the screen.
What made you leave the field of advertising for the lucrative field of documentary filmmaking?
Documentaries. It’s the real get-rich-quick scheme, isn’t it? Well, I was working the corporate world and I was feeling really trapped there. I started having health problems – chest pains. And they checked me into the hospital and this and that. But I encountered Bukowski’s writing… it really came through Bukowski. I didn’t start out to become a filmmaker; it started from wanting to write a book about Bukowski, because I was so influenced by his work. And then that evolved into a documentary, and that evolved into seven years working at it and self-funding it, and… here I am.
What made Charles Bukowski so unique as an author?
Bukowski transformed poetry from something that we’re forced to read in our classrooms… you know, it’s very elevating, it’s very academic, and it’s abstract, and it’s hard to understand. Bukowski’s voice is the simple voice of truth. It makes poetry something that is relevant and meaningful and inspiring and, in many cases, life-changing.
Charles Bukowski’s poetry is not exactly of the “roses are red, violets are blue” variety. Can you describe Bukowski’s poetry?
I think Bukowski’s poetry is based on the world view that life… as the Buddhists say, life is suffering. Life is very, very difficult, and it’s full of pain and tragedy, but out of that, as he says, you can find your own light in the darkness. What matters most is how well you walk through the fire. And so, with his life, he went through some horrific things…but he was able to transform it into writing, which helps. Other people have been through some similar horrible experiences…they read his stuff, and they say, “Oh, wow… if he can do it, and he got through it, maybe I can.” So it helps a lot of people. His writing is almost therapeutic. It’s like… I don’t know if it’s like going to a shrink, you know… but it’s pretty helpful.
Did you ever see Bukowski live?
I never did. Unfortunately.
You never saw him do any of his spoken word? I mean, you were from the same area, so…
Yeah. I didn’t really encounter his stuff until ’94, which was the year he died. I missed it. Maybe it was good in the fact that I came along to do this after he was gone, because there were a lot of people, a lot of stories I wouldn’t haven’t gotten while he was alive. You know, there was some controversial stuff there. But, boy, would I have loved to have met him.
What did you learn about Bukowski that surprised you?
He has this reputation as being the mythic drinker and the, you know, the drunk and the brawler and the kind of the reprobate… but when you look at the story of his life, he worked awfully hard on his poetry. And he was dedicated, and he was focused, and he kept at it year after year after year, writing the poems, putting them in an envelope, putting the stamp on the envelope, sending it out to a poetry magazine. His life is a story of perseverance and endurance and eventual success that he worked awfully hard at.
This was before the days of e-mail. I sent Bukowski typewritten questions, and left a lot of space. He hand-wrote the answers… and not only that, he signed it, of course, as you know B-U-K, Buk. And he drew the little cartoon of himself. I still have it.
My God. It’s gonna be worth something, you know… well, it already is.
Are there any Bukowski stories that shocked you?
When I came to this project, all I knew was the Bukowski myth. But hearing stories of how he loved his daughter and how once he put her into this crib and he accidentally dropped her a few inches, cuz he thought the crib was closer than it was, and he was crying about that. To hear stories about him crying when he saw “Star Wars,” you know, at the end of the movie. That’s not what you think of Bukowski, and we have some pretty revealing footage in the film of him showing that side… and that’s what we really wanted to show, cuz that’s where the poetry comes from. It’s from the compassion and sensitivity, not this other thing, not this kind of shield.
Not all the fighting and f*****g.
Right. Right. But that’s what kinda draws people in: it’s the spice that makes it, you know, interesting. Coming from an Irish family, you know, there’s plenty of that drinking and all the other stuff, and that’s not as interesting to me as the wisdom and the insight that you kind of read between the lines of his stuff.
Get the rest of the interview in part two of JOHN DULLAGHAN: CONJURING THE GENIUS IN A BOTTLE>>>