Decadence and the Damned Poet By Andrej Werner
There have been many portraits and self-portraits of an artist in world cinema, but alas not as many as before. Is it not because the truly artistic ambitions are less popular in the contemporary cinema than they used to be, for example in the sixties? This problem can be seen as an effort to find the identity of art and an artist in today’s world and the possibility to resist many existing factors which tend to degrade the role of art in our civilisation.
Among many different kinds of the artistic attitude the ‘damned poet’ attitude is the most popular one in the cinema at present. It is so because his position is quite spectacular: his revolt is expressed not only in the artistic work but in his life as well. The revolt against the social and political order is sometimes expressed in a more metaphysical manner.
Charles Bukowski can be considered, grosso modo, as ‘a damned artist’, but a very peculiar one. Not for the first time has his work been attracting the attention of filmmakers. This time it is the Norwegian director Bent Hamer who chose his novel Factotum, adding some excerpts from the other works, to penetrate this sad and fascinating world of self-destruction. Chinaski, the main protagonist of his numerous novels is in fact a self-portrait. He eagerly fights to have a job. But it is only a source of money to survive, that means to drink and to have a frenetic sexual life. In the meantime he thinks about something most important for him: his writing; noting down some poems in a bar.
He does not express any aggression towards the surrounding world and people. He drives all the destructive forces towards himself. Even sex has something akin to mortality: in Henry’s case Eros and Thanatos are particularly close to each other. The girls he has the relationships with treat sex and drinking in a similar way to how he does. Laura, the girl he meets in a bar is also an artist (a painter). In her social surroundings we can find the same atmosphere. Promiscuity and alcohol go together with the life of this artistic circle. Maybe it depends on the way they understand the goals of their artistic activities?
Henry Chinaski is reconciled with the life even if it is deprived of any positive values. He only wants to describe it, to catch its ambiguity, its ever-changing rhythm.