BARFLY(director: Barbet Schroeder; screenwriter: Charles Bukowski; cinematographer: Robby Müller; editor: Éva Gárdos; music: Jack Baran; cast: Mickey Rourke (Henry Chinaski ), Faye Dunaway (Wanda Wilcox), Alice Krige (Tully Sorenson), Jack Nance (Detective), J.C. Quinn (Jim), Frank Stallone (Eddie), Harry Cohn (Rick), Sandy Martin (Janice); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Tom Luddy/Fred Roos/Barbet Schroeder; Warner Home Video; 1987)
“For the more curious viewers who take the trouble to read Bukowski they might be surprised to find he’s a much better writer than one could have imagined from this film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

French producer and sometime director Barbet Schroeder (“Les Tricheurs”/” Reversal of Fortune”) helms his first American film that plays out as a lowlife seriocomedy as written by Charles Bukowski; it portends to be autobiographical about skid row poet Bukowski’s life. It revels in the seedy East Los Angeles bar scene, where Henry Chinaski (Bukowski’s alter ego) hangs out in the “The Golden Horn” bar because the day bartender Jim (J.C. Quinn) is protective of him and plies him with free drinks. Henry struts his drunk act in front of the flophouse barflies and regularly fist fights with beefy night bartender Eddie (Frank Stallone), and gets his usual beating (he will eventually lick his nemesis, which is supposed to mean something about Henry’s worth as a man). The drunk soon hits it off with rock bottom outcast soul mate barfly Wanda (Faye Dunaway), and they begin a sordid affair. Wanda is not only an elegant lush but is touched in the head, which makes the couple the hit of the dive set. Into all this newly arrived bliss enters refined literary editor Tully Sorenson (Alice Krige). Henry, when in his tenement pad, has been busy writing and sending her literary rag stories and poems. Tully becomes taken with the derelict and has her art magazine publish Henry’s writings; she also takes him to her mansion and hops into the sack with the boxer short wearing slob. When Tully is introduced to Wanda there’s a barroom cat fight; After Wanda wins Henry kisses her and declares she won his heart, and chooses poverty over wealth implying he’s going to continue to fight to exist free of the rat race.

The film stumbles along like a drunk without a care in the world, greatly aided by all of the following: cinematographer Robby Muller’s captivating mood enhancing shots of the subterranean subculture scene, Schroeder’s deep-seated love affair with the downtrodden poet he tries to make out is the new Walt Whitman ‘poet of the people,’ Rourke’s inaccurate but nevertheless entertaining Hollywood excessive boozy performance (he chatters away with W.C. Fields intonations and plays the poet off falsely as a loudmouth) and its touristy take on down-and-out drunks that’s shrewdly aimed to bring in the viewers for a voyeuristic look at what passes for a slice of dark side Americana. Not too interesting, edifying or lyrical, but for the more curious viewers who take the trouble to read Bukowski they might be surprised to find he’s a much better writer than one could have imagined from this film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”


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