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The challenges of "Factotum"

Posted at 6:22 PM on February 2, 2006 by Euan Kerr

"Factotum" ain't a lot of fun. The Bent Hamer directed film based on the writings of Charles Bukowski is loyal to the material. This means lots of drinking, a lot of firings for drinking on the job, chain-smoking cigarettes, some drunken violence, and a lot of misery. Oh, and he writes a lot too. It's hard to look away.

Some people will love this film. Some people won't. It gets down to where you fall on Bukowski.

This is a movie about the experience of being a drunken writer. It's a subject which holds glamor and fascination for some folk, but I see less and less of an attraction personally. Matt Dillon plays Hank Chinaski, the Bukowski surrogate, with a lot of dissipated vigor. He even manages to look bad a few times. Looking bad seem to be a major part of the drunken writer life, but seldom seems to happen in the Hollywood portrayals ("Leaving Las Vegas" really bugged me as Nicholas Cage drank himself to death while retaining his boyish good looks.)

Lili Taylor is a bright spot in the film as Jan, one of Hank's lovers. She is smart and sassy, although she ends up as drunken mess too.

Some folk will want to see this movie because it was shot around the Twin Cities. There are a number of identifiable spots, including the "Vision of Peace" statue in St Paul City Hall, but I'd make sure you are up for some Bukowski if your really only wanting to do some cinematic local tourism.

As I watched this film I wondered if I would have liked it more twenty years ago. A grittier life seemed more attractive then. "Factotum" doesn't skimp on the unpleasant details, but maybe I have just seen enough of it for the moment.

A good friend of mine lived this life. I've heard he is dead now. I've also heard he is alive. All I know for sure is that it was a sad waste of a great talent.

February 2006
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