Tales of Ordinary Madness (1983)

“I’ve always had a love affair with the streets.” Italian Director Marco Ferreri (La Grande Bouffe) based this offbeat film (Italian title: Storie di ordinaria follia) on a 1972 collection of short stories from the “poet laureate of the gutter,” Charles Bukowski, called Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness. Ben Gazzara sleepwalks through his role as “Charles Serking,” who drunkenly meanders his way through the sleazy underbelly of Los Angeles. This down-and-out drunk falls for a beautiful – but whacked-out and self-destructive – prostitute named “Cass” (Ornella Muti). Let’s face it, Bukowski never bedded down anyone this attractive! I enjoy the scene where Serking (wearing dark glasses and swigging wine from the bottle) reads his poetry to the hostile, unreceptive audience: “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.” Bukowski ripped Gazzara’s performance: “He had appealing eyes like a constipated man sitting on the pot straining to crap. I liked the eyes. But take that away and he was too comfortable. Nice macho guy, but self-pleased, not insane at all. Probably a great variety of ass had cooled him out.” The film also stars Susan Tyrell as “Vera” and Tanya Lopert as “Vicky.” Definitely not as entertaining as Barfly (1987), Tales of Ordinary Madness still has its moments but if you are not a Bukowski or Gazzara fan I suggest you stay the hell away from this one. In her negative review of the film for The New York Times, critic Janet Maslin remarked, “Mr. Ferreri’s film is strained, absurdly solemn and full of inadvertent howlers … Mr. Gazzara staggers through the film with clear but ill-advised faith in the material, even though most of the performances that surround him are unrelievedly dreadful.” In his short story, “Mad Enough,” Bukowski hilariously documents his attendance at the premiere of Tales of Ordinary Madness (calling it Songs of the Suicide Man). Last but certainly not least, demented Gazzara superfan “Nicky Cervantes” wrote, “Ben G. was a total badass, my favorite films of his are Husbands, Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Saint Jack. RIP. Gone but never forgotten!

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