The legacy of poet, novelist and underground cult icon Charles Bukowski is alive — not only at The Huntington, but also with the release of “Factotum,” a new movie chronicling the drifting poet’s misadventures in labor before his immense talent was recognized by millions around the world.
In the film, Matt Dillon plays Hank Chinaski, Bukowski’s longtime, thinly veiled alias in his books. Adapted and directed by Bent Hamer, the new film’s story is very different from 1987’s “Barfly,” in which Mickey Rourke played an exaggerated caricature of Bukowski, according to his widow.
“Hank would have loved this movie,” Linda Lee Bukowski told the Weekly in an exclusive telephone interview from her home in San Pedro. “I don’t think there’s one thing that I questioned at all when I saw the film.”
That’s quite an endorsement. But more important than the silver screen is the man himself, whose complex legacy Linda has tirelessly preserved in her home and her heart.
Pasadena Weekly: How did you two meet?
Bukowski: I’d been a reader of his for many years, when he was being published in Open City and LA Free Press in the ’60s and early ’70s. I had read all his books and gone to his poetry readings. At one of his readings I decided to introduce myself and it began a friendship that evolved later on into what ended up being our loving marriage. It was interesting because it was at the time he was doing “research” for the book “Women.” He was just curious; I was another curiosity. But he was a curiosity to me, too, because I felt that I knew him in a certain way through his books, and I think I knew him in a spiritual way before I met him. I think people feel that about him because he speaks the truth from the gut.
Why did you decide on The Huntington for his archive?
There are several reasons, but ultimately because of the nature of The Huntington. Just who they are and every single thing they do, whether it’s botanical gardens, archiving libraries, art, landscaping or architecture, they’re the best.
Everyone I’ve met there is so genuine and focused on their particular area, and that gratifies me to have Hank taken care of in such loving hands. Other places were always an option because I didn’t want to let the archive just sit and stagnate.
I love The Huntington, personally, and I’ve been going there for about 30 years. When I met Hank, I had been going there already. He knew I loved that place; he didn’t particularly care to go walking in gardens, but he understood it for me, and it inspired me because after he’d gone I created a little botanical garden myself.
Do you still live in the same house?
Oh, yes. We moved here in 1978. It’s like a living museum. The Charles Bukowski Foundation will continue after I leave this world, and our home here in San Pedro is going to be a museum. Great writers have their little houses; I think Ernest Hemingway has three or four of them around the world. I’ve kept it the same as it was. I haven’t touched his room and dining room. I go dust a couple times a year or just sit in there and turn his old Mac computer on.
What was your involvement with “Factotum”?
I met Jim Stark, the producer, and Bent Hamer, the director. They got in touch with me eight years ago. They both flew out here and came over, and we had a grand time. For some reason we all clicked and connected.
They kept within the parameters of Hank’s truth without elaborating or exaggerating like some people have done in films and sort of made them almost caricatures or cartoonish. But everybody has their own way. It’s hard to walk the line with that because you can go too far in either direction. I think “Factotum” is straight on. I think they nailed it. It was a long haul, but they worked hard and pulled it off. I don’t think there’s one thing that I questioned at all when I saw the film. That’s the neat thing about Stark and Hamer; I trusted them implicitly within the first few moments I met them. I don’t know why. It was this intuitive awareness that they were going to make this happen the way Hank would have loved this movie. “Barfly” was like a fluff piece.
This is wonderful. Now there’s more to come. All of his other books have yet to be made into films. “Post Office” is owned by a film director who’s hopefully getting interested in actually doing it. He’s owned it for about 35 years. He bought it from Hank when he was alive. There’s hope that within the next couple years that will come to fruition. Wouldn’t that be cool? And then “Women.” Can you imagine? Oh, my God. And “Hollywood”?
That’s the thing about his work, there’re so many things to enjoy and laugh at. People take him so seriously sometimes. They take that he’s a mythological dirty old man drunken misogynist so seriously it’s hard for those who criticize him to let that go and read the mastery of his words, for crying out loud.
Do you think success helped Hank later in his life with his writing?
Absolutely. You can’t deny it. When you physically leave an element that has been oppressing you in certain ways due to circumstances throughout your life, leaving that and finding wider horizons is something that would help anybody. He had detractors on that. People got mad at me because they said I changed him. I said, “Well, I didn’t change anybody.” We don’t do that. We change ourselves. He just saw a larger opportunity to be free from the heavy burdens he was carrying around with him all those years.
Hank was on a certain wavelength; he was just evolving. People got mad because he didn’t keep talking about fucking whores with big fat thighs and all these things, which is fine to have, but enough is enough, and you move on in life. A lot of those people are bitter in their own selves, maybe unsuccessful writers — that’s what Hank would say. He didn’t mind it. He was a great guy. He was the best. Beyond all that wild and crazy stuff, which was there, but he evolved. If you have any kind of sensibility in your life, you evolve. Hopefully it’s positive and in a way that’s loving to oneself and to others. He decided to open a little door of compassion. And I didn’t try to tell him anything or teach him anything. That’s not my thing. I just loved him. He was a man to me, and then he was a writer.