Dir: Barbet Schroeder, 1987. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway, Alice Kringe, Frank Stallone & Jack Nance. Drama.

Written by American poet of the gutter, Charles Bukowski (based on his own experiences), Barfly is an urban fairy tale of two wanderers who are always in search of the next bottle. “Henry” (Rourke) is a writer who spends all his time drinking and fighting, occasionally fitting in some poems here and there. “Wanda” (Dunaway) is a boozer who lives off the generosity of various old men. Once these two meet, it is one of cinema’s most wonderfully strange love stories.

Bukowski’s script is very slice of life, but not the lives of most. With colorful characters and exceptionally quotable dialogue, the screenplay is on par with any of his works of poetry, novels or short stories.

The rumor is that director Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune) threatened to cut off his own fingers, one at a time, if the head of the studio didn’t agree to green light the film on the spot. Even if that is a fabrication, is it a scenario that shows the kind of unique tale that Barfly is.

Schroeder achieved something that few other directors have—a film so idiosyncratic that it is unlike anything else and something that could never be reproduced with the same effect. His choice of funky source music, dilapidated locations and most especially his casting of haggard background players create a world of winos onto itself. Always an ambitious and unconventional filmmaker, Schroeder’s handling of this material may be his crowning jewel.

As “Henry Chinaski,” Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) delivers one the single greatest characters of all time. Although not necessarily that true to the real Bukowski, Rourke’s interpretation of the character is fantastically wild and unbelievably entertaining. With his bad posture, greasy hair, stained clothes, strange looks and even stranger sayings—Chinaski is a man unlike any other. Full of brilliant thoughts that come and go with each cocktail and fist to his face. For me, there is no better “writer” character in any film, than Bukowski’s alter ego in this one.

Faye Dunaway (Network) plays “Wanda Wilcox” with such a despondent sadness—a woman when asked what she does, answers simply:  “I drink.” Her performance is raw and truthful, finding what little humanity is left in the life of a permanent bar rat.

Henry’s arch-enemy is the night bartender at his favorite dive, “Eddie” (Stallone)—the two men stand on opposite sides of philosophy, beating each other senseless every night.

Jack Nance of Eraserhead fame makes the most out of his small role as a detective hired by a publisher (Kringe) to follow and spy on Chinaski. Nance says very little, but as always, his face speaks volumes.

“Some people never go crazy. What horrible lives they must lead.” The tagline pretty much sums up the film’s point of view.

Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Feb 17, 2009 3:25pm
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