Factotum (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes

The American poet/novelist Charles Bukowski has not made an easy transition to film. I can see why. His life as an alcoholic bum is not a pleasant place for moviegoers to visit. Bukowski, the skid-row Celine of L.A., was the poet of the American down-and-out in the 20th century, and his work can be accused of many flaws, but inauthenticity is not one of them. He wasn't a guy who wrote about outsiders, but rather an actual outsider who happened to have some writing ability. I can't think of one other case in which a writer who chronicled the misery of poverty and drunkenness chose to live his entire life in that misery, therefore reporting everything first-hand. When it comes to alcoholism, living in the filth of humans and rodents, scraping food from trash bins, and carnal activities with the unwashed, Bukowski was the man. He never sought a more glamorous life, even after he started to achieve a modicum of fame. He made the commitment. He even kept up the commitment after his death. His tombstone reads, "Don't try." He lived and died on skid row. He was its poet laureate.

He may be not only the most authentic, but also the most politically incorrect writer of America's twentieth century. He picked up women who wanted to be treated violently, and wrote about his encounters. He waxed rhapsodic about his enlarged testicles. He offered kind words about Hitler and Idi Amin. These characteristics give his work an unpleasant aroma that causes many to hold their noses, and bars the door to prevent him from soiling the Great Hall of American Letters, where many people think he should be. He's the Pete Rose of writers: all the qualifications, but banned from the hall on a DQ.

I suppose I should mention that there are others who are not so impressed with Buk's writing. That'd include me. I certainly will never be mistaken for Edmund Wilson in the literary criticism department, but to my ear his writing just sounds like crap. In the video to the right, which was made by Barbet Schroeder before he made Barfly, you'll hear Buk reading his own work, which sounds to me like an old drunk reading off a list of things that tick him off, with some (but very little) sense for meter or language.

So, who knows? Maybe he does or maybe he doesn't belong in that imaginary hall.

Not that Buk would have wanted in. The only thing he hated more than having to earn enough money to buy booze was the approval of academia and/or society in general. In order to shake up the weltanschauung of straight society, he would deliberately say offensive things he didn't believe. Hell, he would have tried to kick my ass just for having used the word "weltanschauung", even though he spoke German.

That was Buk.

Prior to Factotum, three major films have attempted to get a handle on Bukowski. The most famous among them is Barfly, for which Bukowski himself wrote the screenplay for director Barbet Schroeder, and which featured Mickey Rourke as Bukowski's alter ego. The noted Italian director Marco Ferreri also took a shot at Buk with a film called Tales of Ordinary Madness, this time featuring Ben Gazzara in the lead. The third effort was an offbeat film from a Flemish director named Dominique Deruddere. I suppose that Factotum is by far the worst of the four in terms of capturing the flavor of Bukowski's world. Made by a Norwegian director in Minneapolis, it looks sugar-coated, clean, and - well, like a Norwegian film made in Minnesota. The women are passably attractive. The rooming houses are passably clean. Everyone has perfect teeth. The director's concept of squalor is an ash tray full of cigarette butts and a few overturned beer cans. That ain't Buk. The whole point of Buk's work is that he rejects anything you value, and you would be repulsed to enter his world, even for an hour. He was a repulsive-looking acne-scarred man who was always ready to pick a drunken fight. He usually smelled of cheap booze and his own bodily wastes. The women he slept with were often half-crazed at minimum, and you would not be able to get within six feet of them because of the smell. Even if you were drunk enough to bed them, you could never go through with it once you became aware of their personal hygiene habits. Buk took pride in keeping an erection under those conditions.

In his own words, he quit writing for a while to concentrate on ...

... the drinking. And in between, the bumming between cities, the low-level jobs. I saw little meaning in anything and still have a problem with that. I lived a rather suicidal life, a half-assed life and I met some hard and crazy women. Some of this became material for my later writings. I mean, I drank. There was a bit of a death scene in a hospital, charity ward. I was spewing blood out of my mouth and my ass but didn't go. Came out and drank some more.

In other words, his life was gritty. Barfly caught that. Even Tales of Ordinary Madness caught that, although it was not an especially good movie. Factotum did not. It was about people who wipe their asses with toilet paper, then wash their hands afterwards. Matt Dillon is a good-looking man who seems to need only a shave and a bath to head out to "21" and pick up a countess. He's also a healthy-looking man who seems capable of playing full-court for 48 minutes if need be.

That's not Buk.

It seems too obvious to say Matt Dillon is too handsome and vital to play Buk. Hell, Abe Vigoda is too handsome and vital to play Buk. The real Buk is pictured to the right.

Now that I've exhausted that point, I'm forced to move on to a greater one. If a Bukowski film is not really nitty-gritty Bukowski, can it still be a good film? Can it still be good Bukowski in some other sense? The answer to both questions is, "Sure, why not?" Factotum is in that boat. It is not especially gritty, and the drunken escapades are more like episodes in a sitcom, or even in a fairy tale, than the desperation of reality, but the film entertains. There isn't much of a story arc, and the film is basically a series of virtually unconnected episodes strung together chronologically, but the episodes can be a very amusing portrayal of a guy who just didn't give a shit. Look at it this way. There are many ways to approach an author's work. Kubrick took the long, complex Nabokov version of Lolita and extracted the most comical elements to make his movie, while Adrian Lyne took the same book and made it into a lament for long-lost true love. Factotum took the same approach to Bukowski that Kubrick took to Nabokov. The auteur (Bent Hamer) extracted all the funniest parts of the material and strung them together to show how Bukowski keeps his sense of humor despite being beaten down repeatedly and despite being aware of a certain level of tragedy underlying his laughter. Although this particular avatar of Bukowski is trampled by society, he has not lost his ability to make fun of it. Throughout his failings, he never considers himself the inferior of the successful, nor even their equal, but always stands smugly above them ...

... at least until he falls drunkenly to the bar floor.

That is Buk, a man who found pleasure in his own pain, and humor in his own sadness. And this film captures that part of him.



  • No features
  • the transfer is anamorphically enhanced, and is not especially vivid



  • Marisa Tomei - breasts, underneath Matt Dillon in a dark sex scene.

  • Matt Dillon - bum

  • Lily Taylor - panties and a see-through bra.

  • Emily Hynnek - breasts in a striptease act.


Source Novel DVD

Tuna's notes


Factotum (2005) is based on the Charles Bukowski novel of the same name.  The plot here is simple, he goes through several jobs, two women and several apartments while pursuing his two loves of booze and letters. In fact, the title comes from the Latin expression "fac totum," which means "do everything," and refers to a jack of all trades and/or day laborer.

Bukowski wrote from extensive first hand knowledge about being a skid row derelict and drunk, and this is the fourth attempt to bring him to the silver screen. This is the first such film made after his death. Scoopy felt it was the worst of the four at capturing the essence, or should I say odor, of the real Bukowski. I disagree, and think this the "best Bukowski" of the four. I was only able to find one excerpt from the novel on line, but the excerpt was faithfully shown in the film. Scoop felt this version was too clean and not disgusting enough. I agree that it didn't wallow in the mire as much as, say Barfly, but I don't see that as a bad thing. We are, after all, talking about a man who was not entirely unsympathetic. A specific example will illustrate my position. Bukowski's Chinaski wakes up next to LIli Taylor, obvious disheveled and seriously hung over. He staggers to the commode and vomits, then reaches for a beer. Then Lili does the same. There is no sound of flushing. I did not need to see the actual vomit to get the point. In fact, I could almost smell the second hand booze and stale smoke they both reeked of. A drunk is never more repugnant then first thing in the morning after a night before.

I appreciated the way director Bent Hamer showed me Bukowski's world from a distance, and with a little levity. It did not make him any less a shiftless drunk, but also made him believable as an educated writer who, despite a lifetime of alcohol abuse, still had enough mental faculty for brilliance.

The Critics Vote ...

  • James Berardinelli 2.5/4

  • British consensus: two and a half stars out of four. Mail 2/10, Independent 6/10, Guardian 6/10, Times 6/10, Sun 8/10, Express 6/10, Mirror 6/10, FT 4/10, BBC 4/5.


The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C. It's a helluva movie for a million bucks. It isn't Bukowskian realism, but it is a surrealistically funny movie.

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