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The Buk Shop

The Charles Bukowski Tapes on DVD by Barbet Schroeder

The Charles Bukowski Tapes on DVD by Barbet Schroeder

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Meeting your hero isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be and that was the case for me when I first watched. But watching it now, I know that Bukowski is weaving some more yarn into his tangles Bukowski myth.

There is a scene where Bukowski has a physical altercation with his wife Linda Lee that would make the most seasoned publicist break down and smash up a room. After years dispelling his exaggerated reputation as a wife beater, he apparently thought it would make for good TV. Way to go champ…

In any case, there is a ton of material in this two-disc DVD. It was a whopping run time of 240 minutes split into 52 vignettes filmed by Barbet Schroeder, the director of Barfly.

A 36-page booklet also comes with the DVD, with photographs by Michael Montford, an introduction by Shroeder, an essay by Neeli Cherkovsky, and a 1987 interview with Bukowski about the making of Barfly.

When I first wanted this on VHS, there was annoying music after each vignette. I later learned that a vignette was used nightly as a closing piece before a TV or radio station in went off. If god has any mercy, they didn’t carry that forward to the DVD.

The first disc has a few scratches but should play well. The second appears to have none. There is a ding on the rear of the DVD case, but it didn’t make it through to the inside of the case.

Barbet Schroeder’s Introduction to The Bukowski Tapes

From 1980 to 1986, I was desperately trying to find the financing for BARFLY. We were also working for a couple of hours once a week on a new jazzed-up, souped-up version of the script before going into a night of drinking and talking at his home. Many different subjects were addressed but Hank always made sure everyone who happened to end up with us got their turn to talk even if they were to be violently contradicted later on. I was always waiting for the moment when Hank would go into one of his short monologues. They were as beautiful, powerful and funny as his writing, and always related directly to personal experience.

I considered myself blessed to be there and wished I could share the experience, without disrupting it, with anyone who would enjoy it as much as I did. The frustration of being unable to make a movie I was completely ready to make, led me to keep a record of these evenings using one inch video, which was the best support at the time to film non stop and to forget about the camera was even there. I asked as few questions as possible, always letting the flow of words end naturally. It was exhausting for Hank. As he did in his poetry readings he felt he had to be truthful and give a performance.

It was also important to him to keep alive his notion that creation could not and should not be taken all that seriously, which was a true natural wisdom I greatly admired .For example, later, when we were shooting I had told him I was wishing he could come on the set of BARFLY as often as possible since I considered I had put myself at the service of his text. I was really impressed, though, when he told me he did not want to come more than once a week because the movie could only evolve into something lasting if it blossomed independently of him. The actor, for example, right or wrong, had to find in himself his own creation rather than being tempted to rely on imitation.

Hank was lucid on his talent and told me a few times that BARFLY would be my most enduring movie (his other favourites were “Reversal of Fortune” and ”General Idi Amin Dada”). Seeing the result of the 4 hour edit of “The Bukowski Tapes” he was impressed by his own verbal vitality. He did not remember the shooting.

“This is powerful!” he said unboastfully — taking it simply as something which came from outside of him, over which he had no control. His acceptance of this was part of his desire to always force himself to speak the truth of whatever he was feeling. Also he had not remembered what was on those tapes.

Drinking helped him overcome his shyness. The tiny crew was, of course, drinking and laughing with him. Those who were less drunk would take turns at the camera. Over a couple of months we shot for five or six evenings, starting with beer and ending with red wine. I can still identify the differences in his speech patterns, depending on what he was drinking, even when the glasses are not visible on screen. But the most extraordinary thing that I have ever witnessed with a drinker is that he became more brilliant, his words acquiring more depth, as we advanced into the drunken night. I never saw him incoherent no matter what he drank or in what amount.

I filmed all this, deliberately refusing to cover myself with shots made for editing. I knew it was the man and his words I wanted to communicate, nothing else.

When I started the editing alone at night with loaned primitive equipment, I began by selecting my favourites passages. Rapidly I realized that the footage was working like a succession of monologues. This was an unforgettable moment of solitary exaltation. I was even playing with the idea of having discovered a new form: the filmed equivalent of a collection of aphorisms. At the time the DVD did not exist but it was what was missing from this project— the viewer’s ability to have the same freedom as a reader does to effortlessly, even randomly, navigate from chapter to chapter.

Barbet SCHROEDER, Paris, 13-9-2004

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