Friday, May 7, 2010

"barfly" movie review

last night "barfly," starring mickey rourke and fay dunaway, was on t.v. - a rare showing! it's been a few years since i've seen it; and even longer since i first watched it in a theatre (1986)! it's about a brief slice of charles bukowski's life. more often seen (on sundance and via netflix) is "factotum" - yet another take on bukowski life, made almost 20 years after "barfly," that stars matt dillon. while "factotum" was based on bukowski's short novel of the same name, "barfly" was written specifically for the screen by bukowski. in brief, bukowski was an infamous skid row denizen, and just happened to be a poet and author (and alcoholic).

"barfly" is great film and has stood the test of time. mickey rourke completely inhabits the bukowksi character, "henry chinaski," in both body and soul. it's hard not to compare rourke's chinaski with matt dillon's version in "factotum." both give great performances, with dillon taking on a longer arc of chinaski's life in his film. "barfly," in contrast, takes place over a few days of an older chinaski's life. while chinaski is the singular barfly of the title, fay dunaway as "wanda" is dead on as his fellow bar room patron/bedroom partner.

bukowski wrote some great dialog for the film. the opening exchange between wanda and chinaski as they sit on bar stools immediatley grabs you. wanda asks he "hates people?" chinanski, pausing for effect, says, "no but i feel better when they're not around." while chinaski looks like an alcoholic, looks like he belongs on that bar stool, wanda looks out of place there. make no mistake, she's an alcoholic as well, but appears to be a much more well-heeled one (just down on her luck at the moment). their edgy relationship is undermined when a literary magazine editor shows up (after employing a private detective to locate chinaski).

"tully" played by alice krige, manages to pay chinaski $500 for a story of his she plans to publish. however unlikely, she also brings chinaski home, gets him into bed (after she willingly gets drunk), and offers him the use of her guest house to write "in peace." chinaski accepts the booze and the one night stand, but skips out because he "can't breath in a high class." while the attraction to chinaki is iffy business, tully's despair at his rejection is downright implausible. but, as chinaski is buying rounds for his fellow barflies at the "golden horn," tully tracks him down again.

since he's there with wanda - and she's already smelt tully's perfume on chinaski when he stumbled home late that morning - the inevitable battle royale between these two women is set. before the violence actually unfolded, chinaski remarked that each of them only knew him briefly, and that "this is surreal" truly captured the moment! wanda vanquishes tully and all is well again. which in turn means that chinaski is about to head into the back alley for his penultimate fight with the bartender (frank stallone). the film ends as the door closed on the bar and the characters went about their ordinary lives again.

"barfly" isn't available on netflix, but if it come on, don't pass it up. in the mean while, put "factotum" in your queue - it's also a fantastic film!

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