Cult writer Charles Bukowski was best known for his transgressive fiction. A prolific poet and short-story writer, he most often wrote of his hometown of south central Los Angeles, with which he had a love-hate relationship. His fiction was often times as dark and violent as South Central and reflected his experiences growing up and living within the city. For fans of Bukowski, any film that carries his name automatically generates excitement, and if done accurately must, by definition, be quirky and more than a little twisted.
The film tells the tale of a tailor named Jack that has a dark secret to hide. Outwardly meek and mild-mannered, in reality, the tailor is dangerously disturbed and has become a serial killer. This is not a giveaway or a spoiler in any way as the film makes this clear in just the first couple of minutes by showing several corpses stashed away in the tailor’s cramped apartment as well as some very brief flashbacks depicting the murders themselves. The film isn’t about murder per se; rather it is a commentary on the human condition and what might create a serial killer. The tailor has a single friend, Harry, who drops by for a visit during the height of Jack’s crisis. Harry is a bit of a strange fellow himself and has some of his own deliciously nasty tendencies, but he is a bit taken aback by the turn of events at the tailor’s shop.
This 16-minute short film is essentially a single-set, two-character piece that causes the viewer to feel like he or she is watching a small piece of a much larger story. It’s akin to studying a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle: the piece itself is interesting and the more you study it, the more possibilities you can see in it, but you also know that it is only a small part of a much bigger–and more complicated–picture. And that is exactly the feeling this short character drama gave me. It was fascinating and disturbing and left me wanting more information. While this comment may sound like negative criticism, it is not; rather, that is the real strength of this story–it leaves you with more questions than you had to begin with, but it is fulfilling in itself.
David Gueriera as Jack the tailor is superb in a very understated role. Quiet, contemplative, and patient, we see brief flashes of anger slash across the screen like lightning, but just as this particular weather phenomena is brief, so are these outbursts. It informs the viewer that while the tailor seems the picture of calm and innocence, in fact, he is a man that is dangerously over the edge. Likewise, Justin Dray, who portrays the tailor’s friend, Harry, is also superb as he plays his role with a much more outlandish and colorful demeanor. And while Harry is surprised (but strangely not offended) by his friend’s criminal actions, he is much more put off by the smell than the acts of murder themselves. In fact, the bodies seem to be a bit of a turn-on to Harry as he rushes over and masturbates into the mouthpiece of the telephone (!). Harry seems to revel in sexual perversity as in one scene he describes how he and his friend molested corpses when they worked in the local morgue. He describes seeing his friend humping a pretty female corpse as Harry himself gleefully depicts the action for his friend. Through all of this, Jack sits quietly, continuing to sew up a pair of trousers, only once losing his cool with the buzzing in the room: "Those flies!"
Director and co-writer Seth Dalton deftly directs the two actors, and manages to create a seamy and seedy atmosphere. One can almost smell the rotting corpses from the screen and hear the pervasive buzzing of dozens of flies in the cramped space. The colors within the film are muted and filled with pale yellow light and faded, brownish walls which only contribute to the claustrophobic atmosphere. The score is suitably creepy and also adds to the buildup in tension. The cinematography is also quite good, with terrific close-ups that fade from focus and shots that keep the viewer off-kilter. One of my favorite scenes is a master shot of the two friends in the tiny living space as they converse with each other. The camera slowly tilts to the right, then to the left, and back again to the right, perfectly conveying just how crazy the two friends really are. This is a well-crafted little film.
The film is also quite humorous. Admittedly, most of the humor is fairly dark and will leave some viewers put off, but, for example, I thought Harry’s cavorting against the doorjamb as he describes his coworker’s tryst with a corpse was hilarious. There is also a running gag (no pun intended) using the mouthpiece of the phone. Each time the phone is used, the friends have to explain why it’s hard for the caller to hear them. It seems like such a simple explanation: "Because I unscrewed the mouthpiece" each character replies, as if that is a perfectly ample explanation, not even bothering to think the caller might want to know why they unscrewed the mouthpiece. But as incongruous as that explanation may sound to the caller, they have no idea why the mouthpiece was unscrewed nor what the two friends did with the now-empty mouthpiece, to say nothing about the fact that they have no problem whatsoever in using the phone for calls even after they have both used it for …other purposes.
In the end, Harry becomes bored and Jack invites his friend to leave as Jack has become irritated with his rambunctious companion. As Harry leaves, Jack calls the police to report the crimes, and that’s where the film ends. Or does it? One can imagine that the police don’t even bother to check on the authenticity of the call. In an area like South Central L.A., they probably have more pressing calls and can’t be bothered with every crank call they receive, especially those that are difficult to hear…. We also have information that someone, presumably the tailor’s wife, is on a trip but should return very soon. Will she return only to become the next victim in this bizarre crime? One can also imagine that quite possibly she is the one who wears the proverbial pants in this relationship and maybe she will survive to berate and belittle the little tailor, causing him to build up even more anger that will be unleashed on other unsuspecting customers. Or maybe the police will arrive in time to end this spree before it really gets out of hand. Regardless, Charles Bukowski’s The Little Tailor will certainly leave an impression on the viewer–the kind of impression that makes you want to wash the filth off once the credits roll!
Charles Bukowski’s The Little Tailor is currently making the festival rounds and can be seen in late February/early March at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California. If you live nearby and have a dark sense of humor, drop by and give this one a shot.