TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS (1981)
A Film by Marco Ferreri
Here's another Bukowski adaption, and probably the worst of the lot. There are some nice shots, using bleak long shots to good effect - especially on beaches. But it's too precise. It presents Bukowski in his most stereotypical form. Here we see a hard-drinking, hard-loving, hard-writing guy, coming out with bon mots in every situation. Never wavering when drunk, vomiting only before taking another swig and fucking a young, beautiful girl.
I found this on the back of watching - and enjoying - THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE a great deal. I scouted around for Ben Gazzara's other work, I found out he played Bukowski in this Italian/American production. I wasn't even aware of the movie beforehand.
And it's not as if Gazzara is terrible in this role. He's fine, natural enough. It's just that he has to paint a tedious, unreal guy. It's a romantised vision, what a Bukowski fan imagines he's like after reading a book or so. The Bukowski before you hear his voice for the first time, with his slightly camp Los Angeles slur. Here, Chinaski (well, Charles Serking in this one) has a deep voice intoning poetic words. He gropes a 14-year-old at the start and comments that each of her tits is at least 8 years old. He fucks a ridiculously beautiful prostitute in the home of an ex-lover (Jane again). He's fucking a fat girl, swigging from a big ol' jug of booze before he tries to eat her out. He's reading poetry to beatnik assholes who sit crosslegged yet shout: "We love you Charlie."
It should all be fun. But it isn't... at least not enough. It keeps to the surface of TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS but it doesn't capture the reality. There are funny and silly moments, Charles freaking out in a office. But so many other scenes are too pompous. Charles delays fucking the beautiful hooker because he's tapping out some poems. She dutifully waits and sucks on a candy cane, before waking up and posing by the window with her shapely, naked butt. Charles pukes and takes a swig of booze to wash the taste out... before going over to her. She bends over by a window for him;
Soon, she's obsessed with him. Swishing out of a cab with a fur around her neck, desperate for Charles. He starts to strangle the pretty gal (it's Ornella Muti, the incredibly pert and pretty princess from FLASH GORDON). Her response? "Take my soul with your cock." And, of course, he eventually falls for her: "I love you. You're the most alive woman I've ever met." This woman also closes her mouth and vagina with a big ol' safety pin. Again, much more posturing than "alive." The love feels phony, stupid, based purely on image.
And the problem with TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS is it postures throughout. It takes key lines from Bukowski without any context. It's all Chinaski saying wise words about misery. Chinaski mixing with the bums yet thinking more. But it never feels natural. It feels cold and humourless.
Chinaski (sorry, "Serking") never feels like a bum. He always feels like a winner, a showman. The girls go for him. Even when he's beaten up it's by a stupid whiny kid with what looks like an inflatable baseball bat, it doesn't leave a mark. And when the pretty gal reveals she's slit her throat in the past, he gags dutifully. It should be affecting, but it leave any impression. Everything just lacks humanity. It's the first half of WOMEN without the humour and without the second half to balance things out.
For all the criticism of FACTOTUM and BARFLY, both movies achieve a sense of life. It's for the people who love the image of Bukowski as a flawless drunk superhero. It's for those who love empty, preening poetry. So avoid TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS. It's not badly acted, and it's not badly directed. But it is, sadly, pretty bad.
Review by Steve Hussy