Sometime in the late 1980’s I was given a videotape from my friend Dennis McMillan. It was the film Bukowski made by Taylor Hackford for KCET TV in 1973. It had been taped off TV by a rich friend of Dennis who must have had one of the first home use VCRs in existence. I contacted Mr. Hackford to ask if I could show the 16mm original. His secretary wrote that there was no existing print. I then asked if I could pay for a new print that I could show. That was also refused. He was too busy (being a successful Hollywood writer, director and producer) to bother with it.
In 1992 I began operating the Pike Street Cinema in Seattle. It was a store front theater that cost $600 to construct. That is because I already owned projectors, a screen, curtains, seats and other theater stuff. I also had help from good friends that without which I could not have succeeded.
In late 1993 I was given a huge and out of date big screen TV. I then located a VCR. I was then ready to do my show Bukowski at Midnight. The one hour tape would play on the big screen TV. Before that I would sit in front of the TV on the stage and read letters that had been written by Bukowski to my friend Jack Stevenson. As I read the letters I would drink a beer and smoke a cigarette. I didn’t smoke, but it seemed like the right thing to do for maximum theatrical effect. In the picture below you can see the monster TV. It is to the right of the Altec A7 Speaker. Before the show I would ask for a volunteer from the audience to help me lift the TV onto the speaker. That was a sort of Seattle-ish Brechtian device to bring the viewers closer into the show. It also kept me from hurting myself.
You can see a larger version of this picture at:
Mr. Bukowski died that March which you might guess really helped business. Every Saturday at midnight the theater would fill up and everyone would enjoy the letters and the film. You’d like the film if you could see it. It was shot before Bukowski became really famous. It opens with Bukowski in a liquor store. An old lady wearing harlequin eye glasses confronts Bukowski wanting to know why he is being followed around by a cameraman. He replies “I’m the poet.” She peers up at him and says “You’re a cola?” He says, very patiently, “No, I’m Bukowski, the poet, Buke as in puke.” The film ends with him doing a reading at City Lights where he is delighted to make a couple of hundred dollars.
Shortly after Mr. Bukowski’s death I walked into the theater on a fine Spring day to find an ominous message waiting on my phone machine. It was Taylor Hackford calling and ended with him saying in a menacing manner “Don’t ignore this call.” I called him right back. He was on location in Nova Scotia shooting Dolores Claiborne. Upon the death of Bukowski he had loaned his tape of the film to the Anthology Film Archives for a Bukowski postmortem show. That tape was stolen after the screening. I explained to Mr. Hasckford that I had had my copy for several years and also had letters in a filing cabinet to and from his company about it. Things got amicable after that. He even said it was fine with him if I continued Bukowski at Midnight as long as it kept drawing a crowd.
I might still be showing Bukowski at Midnight if things hadn’t happened. In the Spring of 1995 I showed films in Europe for over a month. That was arranged by Jack Stevenson. I had announced to a few people that I would be moving from Seattle to New York later that year. A nice young guy, and regular customer named Neal, offered to buy the cinema. I told him it really had no value but that he could take it over while I was in Europe to find how he felt about running such a precarious operation. When I got back Neal said he had learned his lesson and would go to grad school instead of pursuing a career being an art house movie man. I found the theater very dirty and in disarray. Neal had felt lonely many nights and had invited various friends to hang out with him there. One of those friends purloined the Bukowski tape. It was never returned. If you know anyone with a copy, let me know. I’d like to watch it again.
Loitering in front of the Pike Street Cinema with Jack Stevenson
Ah, I just noticed the whole film is now on youtube. I wonder if Jack’s letters to and from Bukowksi are on line? If you can find them, crack open a beer, light a cigarette, read the letters and watch the youtube. It might turn out to be something special.