Last night, I attended a screening of Born Into This, a documentary about writer Charles Bukowski. The fact that I was one of three hundred people crammed into the sold-out theater at 10:00 pm on a Sunday shows the scope of his grasp.

Reading Bukowski is like getting hit in the head with a beer bottle – sentence after sentence. Few writers say what they mean like he does. You won’t find flowery, prosaic sputtering or insignificant details, you’ll only read as many words as it takes to tell a story. The magic of Bukowski is that no matter how few words he used, his writing crackles with poetry.

The film is composed of interviews with Bukowski, family, and friends between 1972 and the early 1990’s. he most surprising thing is how gentle he seems. His calm, smooth voice and laid back manner are a direct contradiction to his wino-lifestyle, pockmarked face, and stories of barroom fights and barroom women.

Bukowski lived hard, but he also had a hard life. One of the most powerful scenes is where he visits the home of his childhood, a childhood he refers to as “A horror story with a capital H.” He stands in the bathroom, nervously drinking a Heinneken, and explains how that was where his father beat him with a leather strap five nights a week for six years.

Normally, you wouldn’t consider a movie where the protagonist dies at the end to be a feel-good film, but when Bukowksi died in 1994, he was happy. Born Into This serves as a fitting tribute to whom Bukowski’s publisher referred to as, “A Whitman of the street.”