There are quite a few folks who go through failed experimental stages in college. Some people mess around with drugs, some flirt with same-sex activities, and others — especially those who take a lot of English lit — read a lot of the Beats. I fell into that latter category, but I sort of wished I’d tripped on the Ecstasy instead. I know it’s damn near sacrilege for a person who professes intelligence to dump on the Beats, but — like abstract art, L.A., or comic books — the appeal is lost on me. I appreciated the counterculture sentiment and all, but — though my prose may not always suggest it — I have a soft spot in my heart for grammar. And syntax. And appropriate punctuation. And making some goddamn sense in general.
All of which is why I couldn’t make heads or tails of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Charles Bukowski (I know … I know … though he wasn’t technically a member of the Beats, his writing style suggested otherwise). But I read it anyway. ‘Cause that’s what the “cool” kids did in college. Well, that and the Ecstasy, but, you know, I got the allergies. Granted, I do love Bukowski’s Bar in Boston, though I admit to feeling a bit like a poseur walking in — I always do in the presence of equal amounts of body art and detached irony.
Anyway, Factotum is about Charles Bukowksi. Sort of. It’s actually about a guy named Hank Chinaski, who was the fictional alter-ego of Bukowski, played by Mickey Rourke in Barfly and by Matt Dillon here. But, really, Chinaski is just Bukowski — ask anyone. I’m not exactly sure what I think of Dillon as Bukowski; in the film, he looks a little bit like how I feel when I walk into Bukowski’s Bar— uncomfortable with the prospect of someone finding him out. Then again, it’s hard to gain any perspective when all you can think about is the fact that the guy who thinks “retards” are “goofy bastards” is channeling some weird, under-rasped Christian Slater with greasy hair and thrift-store clothes and saying things like, “Jan was an excellent fuck. She had a tight pussy. And she took it like it was a knife that was killing her.” Jan, it almost goes without saying, is played by Lili Taylor.
So, Chinaski drinks. He procures the occasional job, which he never manages to hang on to because he usually leaves mid-shift to hit the local tavern. He goes to the horse races. He drinks, and he occasionally pukes. He schtups and then beats Jan every once in a while, because it’s something to do, I guess. He gets crabs and covers his crotch in gauze. And he says a lot of idiotic shit that the cool kids are supposed to eat up, like “a poem is a barbershop filled with drunks” or “I decided to clean up the apartment. I thought, I must be turning into a fag.” And for all I know, all the cool kids are just like me, pretending to dig this nonsense — suggesting that the entire subculture is just an illusion built on a faux-hipster premise. Like the inexplicable resurgence of wrist bands.
But mostly Factotum is just a lot of nothing, revealed at the slowest pace imaginable. My God, it’s tedious. An entire 15 minutes, for instance, is devoted to Chinaski’s efforts to pick up a check for the one day he managed to work at a newspaper. “All I want to do is get my check and get drunk,” he says. “That might not sound noble, but it’s my choice.” There is no discernible plot; Chinaski just meanders from point to point, carrying a drink with him along the way. “It’s amazing how hard we hang on to our misery,” he says. Sadly, Factotum gives us nothing else to hang on to.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in a blue house with his wife in a hippie colony/college town in upstate New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.Because He Eats Typewriter Ribbons
Film | August 22, 2006 | Comments ()