TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS is a character sketch of Charles Serking, an alcoholic street poet following his muse while living in Los Angeles. Gazzara opens the film with a tour de force soliloquy at what appears to be an open mike evening at an abandoned but palatial theater where some homeless people are sleeping. After walking offstage a few lines into the next poet's feminist reading, he seduces one of the residents (Wendy Welles, a diminutive drifter who's passing herself off as a 12-year-old girl), wakes up with his pockets emptied and a love note left behind, and returns home to his downtown apartment, opposite that of his ex-wife (Tanya Lopert). The film offers no continuous story save that of the character's search for inspiration among the women in his life. These include a random pickup at Venice Beach (Susan Tyrell, their high-drama sexual encounter at her apartment is hilarious), her heavy-set single mother neighbor (Judith Drake, whose womb he tearfully attempts to crawl back into), and a "not just pretty... devastating" hooker named Cass (Ornella Muti) who appreciates Serking as "the first man I've been with who isn't in a rush" but whose self-hatred runs to fits of self-mutilation. In a third act twist, Serking is invited to New York to participate in a well-compensated poetry program, but the wild animal does not take well to captivity.
There have been a number of films made about artists and their muses, and though Bukowski reportedly detested this one, Ferreri actually gets it right. If poetry exalts the commonplace and finds the universality in the extraordinary, so it is with the women in this film; even the most commonplace of them, the muu-muu-wearing single mother who prostitutes herself to him for a few bucks, becomes a creature utterly contrary to her first impression behind closed doors. And this search for the magic in squalor extends to the film's bars-at-midday ambience, which finds night in the afternoon and the hidden underside of a great city wherein he finds himself suddenly embroiled in characters and situations that point the way to the kinds of derelict magic realism David Lynch would make his own from BLUE VELVET onwards. Gazzara's final encounter with a young woman (Katya Berger) on the beach, experienced after his return to LA, a terrible loss and one hell of a bender, is specifically hard to peg as reality or fantasy but would be beautiful as either.
I already want to watch it a second time.
Viewed on Koch Lorber DVD, as part of THE MARCO FERRERI COLLECTION box set.