Hollywood by Charles Bukowski

Although far from Bukowski’s best, Hollywood (Ecco, 248 pages) is a revealing send-up of what happens when brutal honesty (Buk) interacts with the California entertainment industry. A roman a clef about the making of the independent film Barfly based on Bukowski’s life and some of his earlier stories,the book shows Bukowski finally gaining some recognition and acceptance near the end of his career. The movie stars Faye Dunnaway and Hollywood badboy Mickey Rourke who does a good job slurring and walking about with hemorrhoids. Yet it appears from the text that Bukowski would have preferred Sean Penn, who was originally cast in the part, to play him in the film–Penn had more heart. As always with Bukowski, there are real emotions, honest appraisals, and bone-cutting prose–not compromise, pandering, mediocrity, and unfortunately often successful attempts by MSG-dazed writers to pluck the heart-strings and collect the cash.In all his books, Bukowski’s presence is perhaps the most palpable of any author behind his fictional protagonist. This is, one might argue (and Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe did, in the Paradox of the Actor), the diametric opposite of actors, whose abilities lie in taking on the personae of others, and consequently losing their own identity in the process. The story is that when Bukowski, although much older, first encountered Arnold Schwazenegger in Hollywood, he had to be restrained from attempting to fight him just for being such an obvious phony. Far from his most testosterone-crazed, drunken bull self here, he does not seduce but does manage as if for old time’s sake to pull onto his lap the pretty co-star during a wine-drenched film party. Even and especially when confronted with (and making some money off of) L.A.s billion-dollar dream machine, Bukowski (as alter ego Henry Chinaski) preserves his uncompromising heart and unwavering eye in the face of the ugly truth. A welcome tonic to Hollywood’s treacle.

Dorion Sagan, author of The Devil’s Comic (2000) and co-author of Pack of Lies (forthcoming).

excerpt:

A couple of days later Pinchot phoned. He said he wanted to go ahead with the screenplay. We should come down and see him?

So we got the directions and were in the Volks and heading for Marina del Rey. Strange territory.

Then we were down at the harbor, driving past the boats. Most of them were sailboats and people were fiddling about on deck. They were dressed in their special sailing clothes, caps, dark shades. Somehow, most of them had apparently escaped the daily grind of living. They had never been caught up in that grind and never would be. Such were the rewards of the Chosen in the land of the free. After a fashion, those people looked silly to me. And, of course, I wasn’t even in their thoughts.

We turned right, down from the docks and went past streets laid out in alphabetical order, with fancy names. We found the street, turned left, found the number, pulled into the driveway. The sand came right up to us and the ocean was close enough to be seen and far enough away to be safe. The sand seemed cleaner than other sand and the water seemed bluer and the breeze seemed kinder.

“Look,” I said to Sarah, “we have just landed upon the outpost of death. My soul is puking.”

“Will you stop worrying about your soul?” Sarah responded.

No need to lock the Volks. I was the only one who could start it.

We were at the door. I knocked.

It opened to this tall slim delicate type, you smelled artistry all over him. You could see he had been born to Create, to Create grand things, totally unhindered, never bothered by such petty things as toothache, self-doubt, lousy luck. He was one of those who looked like a genius. I looked like a dishwasher so these types always pissed me just a bit.

“We’re here to pick up the dirty laundry,” I said.

“Ignore him,” Sarah interspersed. “Pinchot suggested we come by.”

“Ewe,” said the gentleman, “do come in …”

We followed him and his little rabbit cheeks. He stopped then, at some special edge, he was charming, and he spoke over his left shoulder as if the entire world were listening to his delicate proclamation:

“I go get my VOD-KA now!”

He flashed off into the kitchen.

“Jon mentioned him the other night,” said Sarah. “He is Paul Renoir. He writes operas and is also working in a form known as the Opera-Movie. Very avant-garde.”

“He may be a great man but I don’t want him sucking at my ear lobes.”

“Oh, stop being so defensive! Everybody can’t be like you!”

“I know. That’s their problem.”

“Your greatest strength,” said Sarah, “is that you fear everything.”

“I wish I had said that.”

Paul walked back with his drink. It looked good. There was even a bit of lime in there and he stirred it with a little glass stick. A swizzle. Real class.

“Paul,” I asked, “is there anything else to drink in there?”

“Ewe, sorry”, he said, “please do help yourself!”

I charged into the kitchen right upon the heels of Sarah. There were bottles everywhere. While we were deciding, I cracked a beer.

“We better lay off the hard stuff,” suggested my good lady. “You know how you get when you’re drinking that.”

“Right. Let’s go with the wine.”

I found a corkscrew and got a bottle of fine-looking red.

We each had a good hit. Then we refilled our glasses and walked out. At one time I used to refer to Sarah and me as Zelda and Scott, but that bothered her because she didn’t like the way Zelda had ended up. And I didn’t like what Scott had typed. So, we had abandoned our sense of humor there.

Paul Renoir was at the large picture window checking out the Pacific.

“Jon is late,” he said to the picture window and the ocean, “but he told me to tell you that he will be right along and to please stay.

“O.K., baby …”

Sarah and I sat down with our drinks. We faced the rabbit cheeks. He faced the sea. He appeared to be musing.

“Chinaski,” he said, “I have read much of your work. It is wild shit. You are very good …”

“Thank you. But we know who is really the best. You’re the best.”

“Ewe,” he said as he continued to face the sea, “it is very very nice of you to … realize that … ”

The door opened and a young girl with long black hair walked in without knocking. Next thing we knew she was stretched out up on the back of the sofa, lengthwise, like a cat.

“I’m Popppy,” she said, “with 4 p’s.”

I had a relapse: “We’re Scott and Zelda.”

“Cut the shit!” said Sarah.

I gave our proper names.

Paul turned from the sea.

“Popppy is one of the backers of your screenplay.”

“I haven’t written a word,” I said.

You will …”

“Would you, please?” I looked at Sarah and held up my empty glass.

Sarah was a good girl. She left with the glass. She knew that if I went in there I would start in on sundry bottles and then start in on my way to being nasty.

I would learn later that another name for Popppy was “The Princess from Brazil.” And for starters she had kicked in ten grand. Not much. But it paid for some of the rent and some of the drinks.

The Princess looked at me from her cat-like position on the back of the couch.

“I’ve read your stuff. You’re very funny.”

“Thank you.”

Then I looked over at Paul. “Hey, baby, did you hear that? I’m funny!”

“You deserve,” he said, “a certain place.”

He flashed toward the kitchen again as Sarah passed him with our refills. She sat down next to me and I had a hit.

The thought then occurred to me that I could just bluff the screenplay and sit around Marina del Rey for months sucking up drinks. Before I could really savor that thought, the door burst open and there was Jon Pinchot.

“Ali, you came by!”

“Ewe,” I said.

“I think I have a backer! All you have to do is write it.”

“It might take a few months.”

“But, of course …”

Then Paul was back. He had a strange pink-looking drink for the Princess.

Pinchot flashed toward the kitchen for one of his own.

It was the first of many meetings which would simply dissolve into bouts of heavy drinking, especially on my part. I found it to be a needed build-up for my confidence as I was really only interested in the poem and the short story. Writing a screenplay seemed to me an ultimately stupid thing to do. But better men than I had been trapped into such a ridiculous act.

Jon Pinchot came out with his drink, sat down.

It became a long night. We talked and talked, about what I was not sure. Finally both Sarah and I had drunk too much to be able to drive back. We were kindly offered a bedroom.

It was in that bedroom, in the dark, as we poured a last good red wine, Sarah asked me, “You going to write a screenplay?”

“Hell no,” I answered.

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