I had a dream the other night. It was a semi-recurring dream I have about Hawaii, but this time was different. In this dream, while I was vacationing in Hawaii, it snowed the entire time except the very first day I was there. As I got back to the airport I was like “Well, at least we got the one nice day”, then shrugged and went down the tunnel to get on the plane. The plane was filled with tons of people…strangers mostly…but also distant relatives and immediate family. All were in visible disbelief that I wasn’t more agitated or demanding my money back in some way.
Then I woke up.
I haven’t been to Hawaii in almost 20 years. We always said we were going to come back every year from then on….we haven’t been back since.
Last night I scrolled through Hulu and came upon a movie called Factotum. I hadn’t watched it in about 15 years and I only remembered 3 things about it: It was filmed in Minneapolis, it was based on a Charles Bukowski novel, and Matt Dillon was in it. I watched it and surprisingly loved it. I loved the acting, I loved the black humor, and I absolutely, positively loved how it was shot. It was surprisingly gorgeous for an indie movie. Every shot meticulously lit and framed. Not to mention tremendous, painterly use of color… almost like an old kodak camera firing off snapshots. Who made this thing? Something called Bent Hamer? No idea who this is, but why doesn’t he have a Stanley Kubrick-esque career by now. Why isn’t his cinematographer as big as Roger Deakins? This thing is every bit as beautiful as a Coen brothers movie.
I watched the film and was instantly transported to another time in my life, but then I started reading the Letterboxd reviews and instantly remembered why this movie wasn’t a bigger deal. All the old hang ups recrystallized in my mind. Yeah Matt Dillon is too good looking to play that weird scrote Bukowski. Yeah, its based on 1940s Los Angeles, yet it is made by cold, stoic Norwegians and set in…Minnesota? Not to mention it’s basically just an updated version of Mickey Rourke’s Barfly plot-wise. So ok, if you’re reading this and not from Minnesota I’d stop right here.
I’ve decided I love this movie. Not because it’s some kind of masterpiece or anyone in it should win any awards. I’ve decided I love this movie, not because this Norwegian interloper captured some pure Bukowski essence. I’ve decided I love this movie because this guy perfectly captures what it was like living in and around downtown Minneapolis in the late ’90s and early ’00s. I mean it’s UNCANNY. For about 2 years in my early 20s I lived down in that area in a shithole studio apartment not unlike some of the poop-stained tenements frequented by Dillon’s character in the film. For a movie of that time in that area, they couldn’t have picked better locations or a better lead. Yeah Dillon was kind of the flavor of the day and sort of a hobo heartthrob of the era…but I knew tons of guys like this back then. Maybe they weren’t quite a Matt Dillon, but there were guys that looked like this in Minneapolis between the years 1997-2000. These were semi-good looking ne’er-do-wells fighting the death of grunge by dressing like unemployed auto mechanics or like somebody that just walked off the set of Trees Lounge. Just total barfly wannabes, hippin’ the jive at the dive bars. And Minneapolis had some good ones, and the Warehouse District was still kind of a dump. An appendage if you will. An appendage with a bunch of brick buildings with broken out windows. Rotting husks of another era. Beautiful shambling dinosaurs. There were like 2 bars (Cuzzy’s!!!) and Acme Comedy club, and a bunch of non-descript nothing. For a young man in his early 20s it was the “glitz” of downtown – and then the Warehouse District was a bunch of ladders and pulleys and fat stagehands behind the curtain at a stage play.
And here is Dillon, swagger limping through a tidal wave of aimless vignettes. Ups and downs, left turns, right turns. He is unfazed by anything in his path because of the drink and the effortless fuck-all attitude. Damn, I’ve forgotten what that kind of freedom was like. Just total remorseless wandering. While watching this film I kept thinking of a song called “Upon this Tidal Wave of Young Blood” which was out around the same time as this movie. The lyrics suit this quite well:
But upon this tidal wave
Oh god oh god, of
But upon this tidal wave
Oh god oh god
We are men who stay alive
Who send your children away now
We are calling from a tower
Expressing what must be everyone’s opinion
“They are going out to bars
And they are getting into cars
I have seen them with my own eyes.”
“America please help them!”
A favorite game was to get blackout drunk and just get into “different scenes” with random people. This movie is all about that. It nails it to its core. The bizarre sequence Henry Chinaski gets into in the 2nd half of the film with the odd dude who takes him and Marisa Tomei out boating on Lake Minnetonka? That was pretty damn accurate – somebody always knew somebody who would take you out there and then if you weren’t “from around here” it felt like you landed on the moon. All of a sudden you’re in this total bizarro-land riding around drunk in a boat looking at Jimmy Jam’s house and feeling like you stepped onto the set of Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Very odd for someone who grew up in a small town and had lived like an animal for 3-4 years wandering between a college campus and some dive bars downtown. You just felt like anything was possible at that point…and now look at ya, cut to 20 years later and your whole world is arguing about where the fuck the kids sunscreen went.
Sometimes I feel completely institutionalized. I am too comfortably trapped in my own life. I know my way around the prison yard, I know who to go to smuggle the cigarettes in, I do my best to avoid getting thrown in the hole. 2 decades at the same place of employment, nearly 2 decades of marriage, and over a decade of kids will do that to you I suppose. But then I wonder, could I still function outside these parameters? If I slipped out of the cage would I be Brooks Hadlin from Shawshank Redemption working at the grocery store, looking for the Supe on duty to tell me when I can take a piss?
I lived in Minneapolis proper from roughly 1994 (when I moved here at 18), to sometime in early 2000…when I fled to the dirty first ring of suburbs and the “comfort” of a 1 bedroom rat trap in Richfield, MN. I was forced out of my moldy studio Apt. on Hennepin and 8th because the people upstairs clogged their toilet and it burst through my ceiling on Christmas Eve of all times and soaked everything down to the floorboards.
When I finally saw this film in 2005 or 2006. I think I was too close to it to appreciate it for what it was. I had just moved to my first house in the ‘Burbs and probably thought I was king shit and didn’t need to be bothered with “this grunt’s life” anymore. What I realize now is how much that time meant to me and no matter how completely gross it was, it was essential to my growth as a human being. I think about some of the insane adventures I had with my pal CS in those days. Like the time he brought a bum into Gluek’s bar amongst numerous protestations from the bouncer, then bought him a He-Man sized stein of beer and tried to get to know him a little. But PLOT TWIST, as I came ambling out of the little boy’s room not 10-15 minutes later, the bum is holding the empty stein in the air saying “I’m gonna KILL YOU Motherfucker!” before getting us all kicked out.
I miss Nye’s Bar most of all. I remember stumbling in there on my way home across the Hennepin Avenue bridge after copious day drinking downtown. My god I can totally relive that shit when Dillon goes in there without actually drinking! I can think about staggering over there with nothing but crumpled ones in my pocket and ordering a little glass of beer for $2 or a whiskey sour in a plastic cup for .50 cents more, then listen to the “World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band” bellow out “Ain’t She Sweet” for the 1,000th time. I had my groom’s dinner there for cripes sakes. CS talked an old barfly into going on stage and playing the Polka band’s drum kit by saying it was “open band night” …then I saw a 55 year old bartender leap over the bar and dispose of the knave while he screamed bloody murder at the snickering CS all the way out the door.
Yes, this film is the perfect time capsule of Minneapolis. People forget the run of movies that were made there from roughly 1993 to 2004. It was something of a midwest mecca for Hollywood as we pumped out Grumpy Old Men movies, Arnold came to the Mall of America to make Jingle All the Way, you also had Fargo, A Simple Plan, Untamed Heart (“he has ape parts!”), All 17 Mighty Ducks movies, Mallrats, Beautiful Girls, Little Big League, Feeling Minnesota, and of course Drop Dead Gorgeous (I actually saw an ad in the campus newspaper for extras for this movie and considered going down there for it….but then like Hank Chinaski I said fuck it and got drunk instead).
It was a crazy time and Factotum was kind of the end of that era. In another odd coincidence I worked at Canterbury Park (where the horse track racing was filmed) from 2004-2005 as a tote monkey. I remember my friend saying…”you should have been here last spring! Matt fucking Dillon was here man!” And by that time this place had been so oversaturated with unimpressive films I couldn’t have given 3 wet farts.
Where did this time go? I have no idea. CS and I had one last hurrah in 2014 at Augie’s strip club and I can assure you that it looked nothing like beautifully lit room with one stripper dancing just for Matt Dillon in Factotum. We had to to go through a god damn metal detector and lets just say some of the clientele wasn’t exactly friendly to 2 drunk guys in 1970s plaid blazers who just left an Arcade Fire “dress up/costume” concert. I will never forget CS’s cardboard tour poster tube having to go on a shelf above the doorman presumably along with any firearms or throwing stars that happened to be filtered out by the giant metal beast. A little more than 6 months later Augie’s was closed down for a spell after a woman walked in and shot another woman in the head.
Nye’s as we knew it is long gone, the Gedney factory where Dillon had to sift through gorgeous green pickles was shuttered in 2019. The Warehouse District has now been renamed “The Loop” and not only houses a major league baseball stadium smack dab in it, but no less than 3 microbreweries, 8 yuppie condo towers, a light rail line, “lofts” in every abandoned warehouse, and about 47 “gastropubs” dotting every corner.
One of the 22 year old interns at my work who lives with his parents wants to desperately move to Uptown (a trendy Bro haven across the highway from Downtown). “What the fuck would you want to do that for?” I said sounding like an 82 year old man with early stage dementia. “I HAVE to man!” he said eyeballs bulging.
Upon this tidal wave of young blood indeed…
You might be asking, what the hell does this have to do with a Hawaiian snowstorm? I don’t know. I should probably just put in a Bukowski quote now and be done with this.
“When you drank the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat.”
-Charles Bukowski, Factotum