Lawrence Russell

Barfly (1988) dir. Barbet Schroeder writ. Charles Bukowski star. Mickey Rourke (Henry Chianski), Faye Dunaway (Wanda)

This is classic Bukowski, alright: starts in a bar, ends in a bar; starts with a fight, ends with a fight.

The main action takes place in a west L.A. bar called The Golden Horn, a deteriorating piece of modernist neon on skid row whose inmates are derelicts, alcoholics and hookers. Henry C. is the anti-hero to beat all anti-heroes (he makes the fifties variety look like working class whiners and middle class brats) to whom "hate is only thing that endures."

Although he is constantly getting beatup, fortune smiles upon him with women and money, and he even gets to win one fight with his foe, Eddie the stud barman. However bloodied, however sick, this poet of the gutter manages to blunder on.

A rich bitch Lit Mag editor called Tully puts a P.I. on him (who breaks into his apartment and photographs his scribblings with a Minox spy camera) and eventually tracks him down in his lair. As he fights with his slattern of the moment, Wanda (Dunaway), he's lured away by the beautiful rich bitch Tully to her canyon top mansion and seduced over yet another bottle of Old Crow or Jack Daniels.

The drinking is prodigious, the rubies endless ("My friends") (in fact a Greek chorus to this circular tragedy of a man who can express pain not love). Needless to say I'm very familiar with Bukowski's Christ-in-the gutter ramblings and find this romanticism bogus, if charming. You can't dislike Chinaski because his logic is irrefutable.

There's a constant string of one-liners (eg. "What do you do?" "I drink.") which hammer this version of honesty like a barman's fist. This is the gospel according to a sado-masochist, where potency is pain, and pleasure is found in a continuous serenade to Death.

Some memorable scenes make this clear: the fights, the psycho with his wife next door, the time Chinaski tries to push the guy with the sports car through the lights into the traffic, the cat-fight near the end, etc etc.

So... all in all a well-produced work with few -- if any -- cop outs. Despite the fact that this is one of those rare exceptions where the director doesn't marginalize the author, this movie will be a classic, especially for those fans of "the most popular American writer in Germany."

© LR 29/3/88


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