The Charles Bukowski Tapes: 52 Short Interviews with the Underground Poet

bukowski readings

Image by Graziano Ori­ga, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

I don’t remem­ber exact­ly how I first came across Charles Bukowski’s Notes of a Dirty Old Man, a col­lec­tion of essays in which the low-rent poet and writer details his lone­ly exploits as an unapolo­getic work­ing-class alco­holic in L.A. But it was long before the days of per­son­al­ized inter­net mar­ket­ing, when I was more like­ly to make new finds by scour­ing used book­stores (record stores, video stores…) and grab­bing some­thing unfa­mil­iar and cheap because I liked the cov­er and vague­ly rec­og­nized it as impor­tant. I may have just been leav­ing a bar, or head­ing toward one, and found Bukows­ki a per­fect drink­ing com­pan­ion. He was a mod­ern-day char­ac­ter out of Dos­to­evsky, the nov­el­ist Bukows­ki most admired.

I do recall devour­ing the book, hit­ting my col­lege library for more, and find­ing pre­cious lit­tle. Then I dis­cov­ered the video, The Charles Bukows­ki Tapes, a col­lec­tion of 52 short inter­views con­duct­ed by French film­mak­er Bar­bet Schroed­er, who direct­ed the Bukows­ki-penned Barfly, with Mick­ey Rourke as Bukows­ki stand-in Hen­ry Chi­nas­ki. Watch Part 1 here, and and Part 2 here.

Edit­ed down from 64 hours of footage shot over three years while Bukows­ki wrote the screen­play to the 1987 film, the inter­views range over his typ­i­cal topics—booze, women, and bar­room brawls—while also explor­ing his devel­op­ment as a writer and his thought­ful per­son­al phi­los­o­phy.

The cam­era lingers on his crag­gy, pock­marked face (he’s no ‘80s Mick­ey Rourke), and the inti­ma­cy and can­dor can be unset­tling. In one scene that made me cringe—and remind­ed me that Bukows­ki isn’t play­ing a role here—he vio­lent­ly attacks his then wife, Lin­da Lee. At almost four hours, The Charles Bukows­ki Tapes is too much to take in all at once. But the won­der­ful thing about watch­ing on YouTube rather than on a col­lege library VHS is that you can eas­i­ly drop in at any ran­dom point. This may be the best way of watch­ing The Charles Bukows­ki Tapes since there’s no par­tic­u­lar log­ic to the inter­views’ arrange­ment that I can dis­cern. There are some dis­tract­ing issues with the audio sync­ing in the video upload, but for Bukows­ki fans, it’s a minor annoy­ance worth endur­ing. Above, see Bukows­ki on cam­era again, this time in a silent cameo in a piv­otal scene from Barfly.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Last (Faxed) Poem of Charles Bukows­ki

Lis­ten to Charles Bukows­ki Poems Being Read by Bukows­ki, Tom Waits and Bono

“Don’t Try”: Charles Bukowski’s Con­cise Phi­los­o­phy of Art and Life

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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