Bukowskiology wasn’t taken seriously for a while. But then it started seeming like a tenure-track discipline. Still, the proper Bukowskiologist maintains an ambivalent relationship with his subject. (Bukowskiologists tend to be male, perhaps from karmic reciprocity for the subject’s literarily evident hostility toward women.) It goes something like the stages of grief, thrashing though discovery, revulsion, adoration, exhaustion, embarrassment, neo-revulsion, and finally acceptance. As the man himself observes in director John Dullaghan’s 2003 documentary, Bukowski: Born Into This, “I was supposed to die and I just didn’t.” Dullaghan’s film is the best yet movie study of how Henry Charles Bukowski went from abused child to gutter-brawling alcoholic to grizzled yawping author, and why we care. It is not impartial, and it tips its hand early by establishing first the personality cult and then the personality, and taking a few minutes (tellingly underlaid with a snippet of Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata) to get to the actual prose. But thoroughness helps — Sean Penn reminds us, for instance, that there was no shortage of hostility toward men, toward self — and for all the squalor in which he lived and of which he wrote, and all the reverie he has since endured, Bukowski still retains his bleak, pickled dignity.
May 11-12, 7 p.m., 2011

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