Ever since the critical success of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis adaptation, literary types have been scrambling to work out another possible success story. I mean, how many directors could pull off the likes of Don Delillo, a man whose writing is more renowned for its essay-like dryness than any great visual prose? To reach for Underworld would perhaps be the next logical step – dividing those 800 pages into a cinematic trilogy would indeed be the most testing of masterpieces – however I believe there’s a far more approachable and accessible offering available. Charles Bukowski’s Women. Published in 1978, it is Bukowski’s third novel and a personal favourite among fans. Here’s a few pointers as to why this would be a success ... WTF is it?
Bukowski’s novels are renowned for a story told via his alter ego, Henry Chinaski. All six of them feature this ‘character’ (although Pulp is told via a completely different person) and are extensions of his real-life experiences. Women tells the story of Chinaski’s various fleeting romances as he drinks heavily and leads poetry readings at various locations around Los Angeles, both not mutually exclusive from the other. Books have been published under his name and women are lining up to meet this infamous man. He is one of the foulest, ugliest men on the planet and he’s enjoying the sex life of Russell Brand.
Remember those depressing, lonely moments in The Wrestler, mixed with scenes celebrating minimal success? Darren Aronofsky could pull off a true adaptation with relative ease – Chinaski’s no hero. Despite how he treats some of the women in the novel he comes across by far as the worst of the bunch and this is the most important part. A lot of other filmmakers would lose focus with this. Or perhaps we could pass the reigns back to Bent Hamer. He did direct the excellent Factotum after all.
Henry Chinaski – oh, the possibilities. For obvious reasons, Brian Cox springs to mind. As does Nick Nolte, with a few more plusses thrown his way with that gravel throat of his. Although he’s a little on the thin side, Steve Buscemi could also succeed considering what he accomplished in Trees Lounge. All that considered though, Rip Torn seems like the best option. Remember him as Don Geiss in 30 Rock? Chinaski needs the same commanding presence, and with the right director, the ability to turn this presence on its head without a moment of thought.
And the rest? To be fair, there isn’t too many other major characters to speak of. Chinaski waves through a series of short and long relationships with various women of various length with no constant support because, well, he won’t allow it. Lauren Graham could play the women who creates the bust of his head and reappears in various states of emotion throughout the rest of the novel – Lydia Vance. But the rest? It’s a mixed dartboard of the young and middle-aged, the ugly and the pretty. The kind of world Helen Hunt, Michelle Williams, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lindsay Lohan could inhabit without fail.
Why it could work.
Bukowski penned a script in the 80s called Barfly and not only literary types have since considered it a cult film. Factotum was adapted in 2005 and it, for the most part, was a successful crossover.
Why it could fail.
The man’s a literary monster for a reason – he has become one of the most copied ever since Black Sparrow Press found him and began publishing his work to the masses in the 70’s. Unlike a lot of the beat writers at the time who were just riding a wave, Bukowski was actually reinventing the way we approach writing and made it available for everyone from the intellectuals and the Deans to the cooks and the gamblers. It is for this reason that it does not always translate well across mediums. His words have a certain stealth and force that can go amiss on the screen.
What we hope they include.
There’s one chapter where Chinaski gets lost out in the woods with two women. Drunk, and a little fat, he stumbles around unaware of his locations and begins to fantasise about the headlines when they find his body – HENRY CHINASKI, MINOR POET, FLOODS UTAH COUNTRYSIDE IN ORDER TO SAVE HIS SOFT LOS ANGELES ASS. It’s a revealing moment that shows the tough bastard has a self-deprecating sense of humour and is one of the funniest in the book.
Ultimately this is a fantasy list but if it were to exist, such a film would succeed on the festival circuit and enter the realm of the cult consciousness. It would sit comfortably on shelves alongside Broken Flowers, Lost In Translation and Punch Drunk Love as an exploration into the depths of the male mind. And hopefully win a bunch of awards too.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire