Movies & TV / Columns

Nether Regions 04.20.10: Barfly

April 20, 2010 | Posted by Chad Webb

Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask “Why should I care about a film I have no access to?” My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.



Starring: Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway, and Frank Stallone
Directed By: Barbet Schroeder
Written By: Charles Bukowski
Running Time: 99 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: October 16, 1987
Missing Since: 2002
Existing Formats: VHS & Out of Print DVDs
Netflix Status: Not Available
Availability: Rare, but easier to watch than to buy

It really is amazing at how many distinctive movie drunks there have been over the years. In all the films I have seen there have been hundreds, each of varying types and importance depending on the picture. The ones that spring to mind first are memorable for their own special reasons: Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, Walter Matthau in Bad News Bears, and Dudley Moore in Arthur. Each actor’s interpretation of being drunk is different. I’ve had people argue with me about how a real drunk acts and how someone in a movie acts. Obviously exaggeration factors in to some personas, but my expert experience at attending parties and watching elders as a child has taught me one thing: Being drunk affects people in different ways. It’s hard to say categorically what is realistic and what isn’t.

Add Henry Chinaski to that list of unforgettable booze guzzlers. He is unlike any drunken character I’ve seen. Faye Dunaway’s character Wanda describes his drunken attitude and stature as a “blue blood, like royalty.” He staggers around with wet hair, an unshaven face, and a look of not playing with a full deck without caring about who thinks what about him and his way of life. Mickey Rourke’s performance is an extraordinary mixture of humor and aloofness. The manner in which he inhabits Henry’s skin makes me wonder if he isn’t trying to convince us of how fun that daily habit could be. Henry is the sort of person you can’t take your eyes off of despite the mundane nature of his existence. Observing him revel in lifthisestyle is strangely alluring.

“To all my friends!”

Henry drinks basically all the time, but he is also something of a poet and writer. He jots down notes and lines that come to him on pieces of scrap paper. A publisher from a literary magazine is attempting to track him down. Henry avoids her and her private detective like the plague it seems, but why? He frequents a trashy bar called the Golden Horn, which houses the same people sitting at the same stools day in and day out. Everyone there knows Henry and addresses him as he enters like Norm on Cheers. They also know the prostitute who needs to retire, and they know the bartenders. One of the bartenders likes Henry, and the other does not. The movie opens with a fight between Henry and Eddie, the muscular mustached bartender that views Henry as nothing more than a bum taking up space.

One evening, following his regular brawl with Eddie, Henry moseys on over to a different bar, and on this occasion he sees Wanda sitting gloomily. She is a deadbeat drunk like Henry, but she has not lost every ounce of her vanishing beauty and refinement. Many men make comments about her legs. Despite the warnings of her craziness, Henry strikes up a conversation with her immediately. Eventually they grab some more alcohol and head to her place, after she steals some corn that is not quite ripe yet, direct from the stalk. The police spot them and they barely make it into her apartment. When she discovers that the corn she wanted so much is indeed unsuitable to consume, she breaks down in front of Henry, and the two form a strong bond from that moment forward.

Barfly is about Henry’s daily adventures in and out of bars, grimy alleys, and scum infested apartments. It was an original screenplay written by Charles Bukowski, and his world is not one that will be revered by everyone. One friend who loves to read politely said to me that Bukowski is too dark and gritty for him. This is certainly a fair assessment, but there is a beguiling quality to Bukowski’s universe that continually draws me in. I highly recommend Factotum starring Matt Dillon, which is also based on his works. Barfly was a biographical piece for Bukowski, himself a Los Angeles loner who traveled from bar to bar, sleeping with random women, but always drinking, drinking, drinking. On the special features of this DVD, Bukowski stated he could not wait for the shoot to be completed so he could return to being alone with his alcohol and typewriter. He wrote about the period in Hollywood.

Another poster.
I like this one better.

Upon finishing Barfly, I was struck by how many minor characters still occurred to me. We have the middle-aged woman who constantly taunts Henry and never loses the scowl on her face. Henry buys her drinks when he has the money regardless of her nastiness. And there is Jim (played by the wonderful J.C. Quinn), the bartender who tries to support Henry amidst every beating he takes and every rambling about life he unloads. Even the convenience store clerk who is busy watching two adolescent thieves as he finishes the transaction for Wanda and Henry is intriguing. His aggravating night persists even when Wanda and Henry leave him. There is also an old man who takes such joy in helping Wanda with a light for her cigarette. Watching even the smallest characters is like numerous fascinating mini slices of life through Bukowski’s eyes.

Whenever I am discussing one-liners in movies, I always think of Commando in terms of the action genre. For dramas, or even comedies, Barfly is definitely a title that I will mention in the future. Throughout the story, we hear a voice over from Henry, and the thoughts are usually the random lines he is writing down. But even when he is at the bar, or exchanging dialogue with Wanda, Henry is filled with hilarious and thought-provoking musings on the world, bursts about his preferences, and opinions on the people around him. Of course Rourke’s personal life and career decisions commonly affected him during the late 80’s and into the 90’s, but his turn here is still fantastic and reputable. Bukowski, a man who hated movies, called his approach and execution “magic.”

Faye Dunaway establishes a unique, yet inherent chemistry with Rourke. If the movie had focused on her instead, it would be just as hypnotizing. She explains that whenever she drinks, she makes poor decisions. She exudes class in a way that only Dunaway possibly could while slouched in a rundown bar where she stares blankly into the air. The verbal tango Rourke and Dunaway exhibit is fabulous, but I thoroughly appreciated how their relationship developed into an oddly touching romance of a slovenly duo. This would be emulated between Elisabeth Shue and Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. Wanda has a wicked cat fight with Tully Sorenson, the magazine publisher. Alice Krige plays Tully as being the exact opposite of Wanda and the world Henry is used to. She is magnificent, and Frank Stallone is solid as well as Eddie.

Wanda’s legs drive men
at the Golden Horn bananas.

The director of Barfly is Barbet Schroeder, who might be known more to you now as the filmmaker behind the mediocre Murder by Numbers. His camera work results in the viewer being another drifter into the bar, observing Henry and his chaotic behavior wherever it might lead. His methods are not flashy because this is Bukowski’s film. This is his world, and Schroeder practically begged him write the screenplay, so I’d wager he filmed what was on paper without taking too many liberties. It took 8 years for Barfly to grace the big screen. Schroeder allegedly threatened to cut off his finger with an electric saw if Cannon Group president Menahem Golan did not finance it. Thankfully the mission was accomplished, for the sake of his finger and the film.

Barfly includes a rather eclectic soundtrack featuring Booker T & the MG’s with superb tracks like “Hip Hug-Her” and “Born Under a Bad Sign” intermingled with Mozart and Beethoven. One fits the atmosphere and timeframe and the other fits Henry, but the music never clashes despite the absence of an original score. Schroeder denied the offer for Trevor Jones to compose any music because he thought source material was better. Triggering the audience for emotions would have backfired with the wrong score. Cinematographer Robby Muller captures Henry’s area of Los Angeles as dark, filthy, and generally dreary, but Bukowski’s sense of humor makes the experience a pleasant one.

Barfly is a film where many will emerge with polarizing points of view. Charles Bukowski is not a writer everyone will embrace, and with that said, Mickey Rourke’s performance might then rub some the wrong way since it is based around the author. I found it to be heartrending, funny, and engrossing. It has the right blend and balance of comedy, drama, and romance that is satisfying and not depressing, contrived, or sappy. It is easily one of Rourke’s top 3 performances of his career, and should be seen by more people. I’m sure this can be viewed on many sites, but finding the DVD is not so easy. It’s a shame really. I can only hope that the current popularity of Rourke will prompt someone to re-release this so the general public can enjoy it.

Final Rating = 9.0/10.0

The Heartbreak Kid – Still Out of Print
Homicide – Now Available
The Taking of Pelham 123 (1998-TV) – Still Out of Print
The Stepfather – Now Available
The Stepfather 2 – Now Available
The Stepfather 3 – Still Out of Print
Phantasm II – Now Available
Red Cliff Part 1 and Part 2 – All Versions Now Available
America, America – Still Out of Print
Salem’s Lot – Still Out of Print
A Return to Salem’s Lot – Still Out of Print
Latin Lovers – Still Out of Print
State Fair (1933) – Still Out of Print
The African Queen – Now Available
Wings – Still Out of Print
Cavalcade – Still Out of Print
Sleuth (1972) – Still Out of Print
Johnny Guitar – Still Out of Print
Children of the Corn 2: The Final Harvest – Still Out of Print

Closing Thoughts

This was another crazy week with work transitioning, wedding planning, and everything else. Sometimes I wonder how juggle it all. Over the weekend I attended a live taping of Saturday Night Live, which was fun. I urge you to listen to the podcast for a more in depth version of the story. The same night, I went to a restaurant called Max Brenner, Chocolate by the Bald Man. If you live in the New York City or Las Vegas area, you need to check this place out. Aside from regular meals, they serve chocolate pizza with various toppings. One of the best meals I’ve ever had.

I watched the Robert Altman film Vincent & Theo, chronicling a period in the lives of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh. It was a very passionate and profound picture, but also very dry now and then. I realized there are a bunch of films about Van Gogh I have yet to see. From my local library, I finished renting the complete discography of Blur, and have come to the conclusion that I like approximately 1 of their albums. The rest is a mixture of failed experiments, noise, faded vocals, and other weird tracks. As for wrestling, my interest in current storylines has almost worn down to nothing. I watch and ask myself why I continue to watch. And with Kurt Angle taking some time off, what is the point?

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“The plural of Chad is Chad?”
–From the movie Recount


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