“Hollywood” by Charles Bukowski

“Hollywood” book cover

If you were to read only one documentary book about making movies,  I would suggest Hollywood by Charles Bukowski. It tells the story of his real Hollywood experience as a screen-writer of the movie Barfly. The screenplay was based on his actual life. (Do you get it? Life -> Screenplay -> Movie -> This book. So meta! )  The book is absolutely hilarious. I do not advise you to read it if you think that Hollywood is all about talented people in glamorous settings. And that movie industry is a rational area of business with only balanced individuals involved. Here you will meet all kinds of freaky, obsessed, and shaky human beings who at the same time are able to produce brilliant art. For any movie-goer it is an absolutely fascinating novel.

What spices the fun is the fact that it is Roman à clef (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_%C3%A0_clef) which means that you become involved in the quest for the actual actors, directors and moviemakers behind their false names. After all, what else could you expect from the writer who hid behind the person of “Henry Chinaski” (here again a narrator). This adds surrealism to the book: real people become characters in the novel, in this sense prolonging their existence through Bukowski’s mind. As I write these words, many of the characters in the book are dead, but in Hollywood they stays strong. However, I doubt if most of the people described here wanted to be remembered like that. As the author stresses all the time: Hollywood is all about falseness. People pretend to the media, hide behind their public image. For example, you cannot look at Mickey Rourke (the lead role in Barfly) in the same way. Bukowski portrays him as someone who only plays a tough guy, but often feels insecure.

Faye Dunaway, Charles Bukowski and Mickey Rourke on the set of “Barfly”

What is grotesque about this book? The contrast between prestige usually associated with movies and the reality that destroys this illusion. Chinaski is an outsider in Hollywood. He does not know this world, and he does not particularly care if the movie will get finished or not. The book does not disappoint in puzzling the readers. The characters are grotesque: needy, physically deformed, or mad.

Here is an excerpt, featuring Jean-Paul Sanrah (most probably Jean-Paul Sartre!) who is to find funds for the movie:

There was a fellow there who had the ability to raise money, to back films. This fellow, Jean-Paul Sanrah, had no money himself but it didn’t matter: they said he could jack off a statue in the park and money would emanate from the genitals. Great.  (. . .)

The door, as they say, was ajar. And Henri-Leon was trying to rouse a large body resting on this large bed. The body would not rouse.

I saw Henri-Leon reach into a bowl and grab a handful of icecubes. Two hands full. He pressed the icecubes against both sides of the face and on the forehead. He opened the shirt and rubbed the ice on the chest.

The body still didn’t rouse.

Then all at once it sat up, screamed: “YOU SON OF A BITCH, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? I’M GOING TO HAVE TO DEFROST MYSELF!”

“Jean-Paul, Jean-Paul…you have…visitors…”


“Jean-Paul, Jean-Paul. . . you had an appointment. . . with Jon Pinchot and his screenwriter…”

“All right…shit…I’ll be right out…I’m going to jack-off first. . . No, no, I’ll wait…something to look forward to…” (. . .)

Then Jean-Paul came trundling out. He was dressed in white pants with wide yellow stripes. Pink stockings. No shoes. His hair was all in brown curls, didn’t need combing. But the brown hair looked bad. Like it was dying and couldn’t make up its mind what color to be. He was undershirted and scratching. He kept scratching. (. . .)

Then, he stopped, seemed to see Pinchot.

“You want money, right?”

Pinchot smiled.

“Fucker, I will get you your god damned money,” said Jean-Paul.

“Thank you. I just told Chinaski, here, that you were a genius.” “Shut up!”

Then Jean-Paul looked at me.

“The best thing about your writing is that it excites the Institutionalized. Also those that should be excited. And that figure goes into the many millions. If you can only remain pure in your stupidity, someday you may get a phone call from hell.”

“Jean-Paul, I’ve already gotten those.”

“Yeah? Huh? Who?”

“X-girl friends.”

“YOU DULL ME!” he screamed and began circling the table again, scratching himself as he did so.

Then, after one last big circle, he ran to the bedroom, slammed the door and was gone.

“My brother,” said Henri-Leon, “is not feeling well today. He is upset.”

I reached around and refilled the glasses.

Charles Bukowski

How did you like it? Makes one want to read Sartre’s books, doesn’t it? :)

I also recommend watching Barfly. It is a very good movie. But after reading this book I was surprised it was ever made. Probably every movie has a similarly crazy background, but not every movie has a writer walking on set.

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