Aug 8, 2014
With all the novelists and philosophers that have claimed to be speaking for the loser masses known as the Lumpenproletariat, Amero-Kraut dipsomaniac Charles Bukowski (Factotum, Notes of a Dirty Old Man) was probably the only one who was not full of shit, as a virtual real-life bum and self-destructive addict that, not unlike the millions of alcohol-addled American men that look and act just like him, would have probably dropped dead in a gutter completely unknown and unloved were it not for his unconventionally charming writings. Italian auteur Marco Ferreri (Dillinger Is Dead, La Grande Bouffe)—a man who also liked to call out bullshit when he saw it, especially regarding the decadent bourgeois, albeit in sardonic celluloid form—seemed to have taken notice of Bukowski’s lack of bullshit, as indicated by his rather underrated work Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981) aka Storie di ordinaria follia starring American Guido Ben Gazzara (The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Buffalo ’66), great Guido goddess Ornella Muti (Flash Gordon, Once Upon a Crime), and exceedingly eccentric cult diva Susan Tyrrell (Andy Warhol’s Bad, Forbidden Zone). Adapted from stories featured in the 1972 Bukowski collection Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness, including the short story The Most Beautiful Woman in Town, Ferreri’s rather elegant yet exceedingly fucked film features a rare booze-and-boobs-addled “no bullshit” depiction of America, namely Los Angeles, that reminds the viewer why America has never and will never be the land of kings and queens, but instead, a gigantic anti-cultural world toilet of the anti-organic sort swimming with decidedly desperate and depraved untermenschen who live for the bread and circus (or, should I say, cheap beer and crusty cunts) and nothing more. As a native goombah, Ferreri opted for transforming Bukowski from an ugly kraut with an ugly Polack surname into an ugly old wop with an ugly Anglo surname. Featuring the sort of lavish and meticulous set-design and Mise-en-scène you would expect from Italian maestro Luchino Visconti, albeit set in a proletarian pandemonium form full of intentionally aesthetically vulgar mustard greens, vomit yellows, feces brown, and dried up blood reds, Tales of Ordinary Madness is fitting is an (anti)tribute to a nation full of forlorn physical and psychological cripples, criminals, bastards, mongrels, addicts, and other miserable sub-subhuman serfs whose ancestors had been flushed out of Europe. Focusing on a wanton wino writer antihero who stoically states, “I didn’t want to go home, I didn’t want to see anybody. I just wanted to be invisible for a few days. To get down in the dirt and lose myself with all the others…the defeated, the demented, and the damned. They’re the real people of this world and I was proud to be in their company,” while watching a group of multicultural bums fight, Ferreri's Bukowski flick is a rare 1980s Reagan era film that depicts America as it really was, as a culturally vacant (sub)human sewer as seen through the blurry eyes of a true blue American prole philosopher-poet.
Opening with poet-philosopher antihero Charles Serking (Ben Gazzara) doing a spoken word performance at a mostly empty opera house while drinking a bottle of liquor wrapped in a brown paper bag and proudly proclaiming, “Style is the answer to everything... a fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing. To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without style. To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art. Bullfighting can be an art. Boxing can be an art. Loving can be an art. Opening a can of sardines can be an art. Not many have style. Not many can keep style. I have seen dogs with more style than men - though not many dogs have style. Cats have it in abundance. When Hemingway put his brains to a wall with a shotgun, that was style,” Tales of Ordinary Madness immediately establishes an offbeat libertine tone that has disposed of all conventional morals and pretense in a vomit-covered trashcan. After getting bored with a banal folksinger that performs after him, Serking wanders around the opera house and finds a busty blonde teenage runaway who claims that she is only 12-years-old, but that does not stop the proudly perverted poet from attempting to get in her middle school panties. Determined to find out her true age, Serking grabs the runaway’s tits and after feeling them for a couple seconds declares, “Your tits are too big…their at least 8 years old apiece. It adds up to 18. You’re a liar.” Undoubtedly, when it comes to the ladies, the gutter philosopher does not discriminate, as he loves all ages, shapes, sizes, and persuasions of women, so long as they have a nice warm wet hole that he can enter. As Serking narrates, he has “come to the conclusion that the touring poet act was a mistake, but then again, my life’s been one big one, so I am told,” so he decides to head back to the Los Angeles hellhole of an apartment that his ex-wife Vicky (Tanya Lopert) rather reluctantly retains for him. When Vicky throws a can of Serking’s beer out of a window to protest the fact that he has rather poor health as a result of decades of drunkenness, the Poet becomes so enraged that he begins to strangle his ex while shouting, “You owe me for that beer, bitch! Cough it up!,” like a wounded animal. Needless to say, Serking has to get away from Vicky, whose voice is quite grating, so he heads to the beach and soon spots a hot middle-aged blond named Vera (Susan Tyrrell) and declares that he has, “hit the jackpot when I spotted this blonde number. She was that rare kind that gives you an instant hard-on. All sexual sleaze with the ass of a wild animal…my kind of game. She was radiating heat, putting out signals and I was hooked.” Needless to say, Serking stalks Vera all the way to her apartment and quasi-rapes her. After they have ‘passionate’ coitus, the Poet asks her how she liked it and Vera responds, “Yes, I liked being raped,” though she later decides to call the police and accuses Serking of “carnal violence” in the form of forced oral sex.
Undoubtedly, Serking’s life takes a rare temporary turn for the better when he meets a girl he describes as “devastating” and “the most beautiful girl in town.” Although a pussy-peddler by trade, Cass (Ornella Muti) claims to have previously been a member of a Catholic convent. She is also a suicidal sadomasochist who even freaks an old drunk degenerate like Serking out when she randomly drives a giant safety pin from one side of her mouth to the other, as if attempting to prevent herself from speaking. Serking tells Cass that her self-destructive behavior hurts him and his uncommon sensitivity ultimately touches the metaphysically wounded hooker, so the two head back to the poet’s apartment, only to see that his ex-wife has locked him out of his room. When Serking eventually gets Vicky to unlock the door to his apartment, he decides to write instead of fuck, which impresses Cass, who states of the Poet, “You’re the only man I’ve ever known who wasn’t in a rush.” Indeed, the two do not screw until the next morning, but when they do it is quite passionate, as Serking porks Cass from behind while grunting the word, “love.” Naturally, Cass comes by to see Serking the next day, only to walk in on him receiving a foot massage from a quasi-cross-dressing Mansonite-like bull-dyke with a shaved head who has the words, “Love, He Said” written in red on her forehead. Cass demands that Serking get rid of the dyke and then passionately proclaims, “I want to be fucked and have nothing left for the others. Nothing.” Ironically, Serking absurdly demands that the hot Hooker pay him for sex despite the fact that he is a physically repellant human-booger and she is a great Guido goddess, which she, quite inexplicably, gladly does. After choking Cass and prophetically declaring, “I’ll kill you, you understand,” the two make love on the floor in front of the bald bull-dyke and the hooker states, “give it to me…take my soul with your cock.” When Serking bails Cass out of jail a couple days later for hustling, the prostitute proudly declares, “you’re my man forever,” which seems to somewhat annoy the Poet as he subsequently decides to pay a morbidly obese single mother for sex. While shoving his head up the morbidly obese single mother’s cave of a cunt, the fat woman sings, “It’s ok, it’s ok,” thus causing the Poet to subsequently cry like a little baby. Indeed, it seems like Serking would like nothing more than to crawl back into his mother's womb.
Fed up with his day-to-day life as a dipsomaniac poet, Serking decides to enter the wino underworld and stays at a homeless shelter for a couple days where he bears witness to bum fights and the unconventional wisdom of hobo philosophers. When the Poet gets so drunk one night that he ends up sleeping in a car at a used car dealership, he awakens to the owner and his preteen son double-teaming him with baseball bats. While the used car salesman would like nothing more than to see his son beat Serking to death, he eventually tells his son to stop pulverizing the Poet because he fears a lawsuit. Bored with his sabbatical at the hobo shelter, Serking goes back to his apartment and learns that his ex-wife, who now has a new wop boyfriend, is engaged. Vera also proudly states regarding her new and seemingly gay goombah boy toy, “You won’t believe how he eats my pussy.” When Serking finally goes back to his lady love Cass, he breaks down and smashes a bottle after noticing that she has attempted suicide by slitting her own throat with a broken beer bottle. Determined to cheer his quasi-girlfriend up and strengthen their somewhat dubious relationship, Serking takes Cass on vacation to a scenic beach house where he used to live before becoming famous. While making love on the beach, Serking asks Cass to marry him, but she says nothing. After sex, the Poet falls asleep, only to learn upon waking up that his lady love has abandoned him without leaving so much as a note. When Serking goes back to his apartment, he finds Cass laying on his bed holding a letter from a publishing company. After reading the letter and learning that he has been accepted by a major NYC publisher to come to the superlatively shitty cultural void of a city to write, Serking also receives some bad news after discovering that Cass is bleeding from her gash, even though it is not that time of the month. Indeed, Cass has driven an earring through her vagina because, as she states, “I’ve closed it, for you and for everybody…forever.” Needless to say, Serking’s career in NYC does not last long, as his new boss eventually tells him that he needs a doctor and not a publisher, thus bringing him back to square zero. Upon arriving back in LA, Serking is horrified to receive the news that Cass has finally successfully committed suicide, so he goes to her traditional Catholic viewing where she is dressed in nun garb and causes a major scene by opening her casket and fiddling with her cold corpse. Completely dejected by the senseless death of the “most beautiful woman in town,” Serking hits rock bottom and crawls into a cheap liquor bottle. It is only when an underage girl agrees to get naked for him (he just asks to see her tits, but she bares her bush as well) that he finds the strength and inspiration to compose poetry again.
Undoubtedly, when it comes to the insanely idiosyncratic oeuvre of Marco Ferreri, one cannot receive a better and more accessible introduction to his work than Tales of Ordinary Madness, which is also, at least in my less than humble opinion, the greatest Bukowski film ever made and I say that as someone who also enjoyed Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly (1987) starring Mickey Rourke. Interestingly, aside from Ferreri and Schroeder’s films, the Bukowski adaptations Dominique Deruddere’s Crazy Love (1987) and Bent Hamer’s Factotum (2005) were also directed by Europeans, thus demonstrating what little Americans think of their handful of true artists. It should also be noted that Hollywood heartthrob turned would-be-arthouse-auteur James Franco has just completed a film entitled Bukowski (2014) about the poet’s early years. Indeed, not unlike works as varied as Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970), Werner Herzog’s Stroszek (1977), Peter Lilienthal's Dear Mr. Wonderful (1982) aka Ruby's Dream, and Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984), Tales of Ordinary Madness is an audacious outsider's portrait of the United States that depicts the the land of the culture-free and home of the depraved in a no bullshit fashion that is more revealing, authentic, and poetic than any Hollywood film ever could be. While star Ben Gazzara’s appearance and demeanor scream Sicilian-American, his performance in Ferreri’s film is, in my opinion, among the most understated and underrated in film history, especially when it comes to films about novelists. American’s closest thing to a Louis-Ferdinand Céline, albeit of the ugly drunkard Yankee kraut variety, Bukowski proved that, not unlike auteur Ferreri, great pulchritude can be found in human ugliness and vulgarity, hence why Tales of Ordinary Madness is such an effective, if not marginally flawed, film. As someone who has never understood the appeal of drunk sex and alcohol in general, I have to say that Ferreri’s flick is probably the only film I have ever seen where I managed to empathize with a self-destructive drunkard. Indeed, being stuck in a small and slimy dilapidated apartment covered with beer cans, vomit, and a nagging ex-wife is the last place I would want to be, but somehow Ferreri managed to find primitive beauty in all of this, thus providing evidence that it may, in fact, be possible to polish a turd. While I think Bukowski was a pathetic lazy bum who just happened to write some interesting and insightful things, Tales of Ordinary Madness reminded me that he had good reasons to be the way he was, with the following remark made by Gazzara's character being an excellent insight into why one might want to live the degenerate life of a ditch-dwelling dipsomaniac: “As long as you don’t believe in god, you got nothing to sweat […] Death isn’t good and death isn’t bad, it’s just the Joker in the deck. There’s worse things anyways, like living with someone you don’t like or working 8 hours on a job you hate. Now, that’s definitely worse than death.”
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 2:27 AM
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