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Barflies, tramps, heroes and whores: Charles Bukowski and the cinema

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posted on 2023-06-08, 14:15 authored by J C Farhoumand
Charles Bukowski died in 1994 but many important examples of his writing – including 2,000 pages of poetry and 1,000 pages of correspondence – have only been published posthumously, resulting in no thorough academic investigations of his complete works, to date. My contention throughout is that Bukowski’s entire oeuvre – from poetry to prose – would not be what it is without the major influence of cinema. Furthermore, much of Bukowski’s work has been adapted to film since his death, resulting in a new focus on his contribution. I take into account all of Bukowski’s primary work, including his prolific correspondence to friends, writers and directors, as well as further secondary sources on twentieth century cinema, literature and modernism to help place Bukowski within his wider cultural context. I examine the clear line of influence stemming from Charlie Chaplin to Bukowski and his peers, and show the many similarities between Chaplin’s Tramp and Bukowski’s literary alter-ego Henry Chinaski. Furthermore, I examine the major influence of key actors such as Humphrey Bogart and Marlon Brando on Bukowski’s handling of male identity, and the somewhat parallel influence of actresses such as Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot on his female characters. This analysis reveals that much of Bukowski’s performative sexism is a direct reflection of what he saw in the cinema. I also examine Bukowski’s screenplay Barfly, and the autobiographical novel Hollywood that the film adaptation of Barfly inspired. I pay particular attention to Bukowski’s emphasis on narrative form over lyric, examining how this corresponds with the narrative structure of film; how Bukowski uses allusion to cinema to make his work immediately familiar and accessible; and how Bukowski’s employment of enjambement is clearly intended to keep the eye moving, just like in a film.


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