“…at times his movements show a sudden swiftness and grace. It is as if he were saving himself for some magic moment, some magic time. Meanwhile, he drinks and drinks and drinks.” Charles Bukowski’s description of main character Henry Chinaski in his script for Barfly.
Charles Bukowski’s alter ego, Henri Chinaski, is a literary prototype and a film anomaly. As played flawlessly and recklessly by Micky Rourke, Henri is the quintessential outsider who finds purpose in avoiding purpose, at least in the conventional sense. He contains the alienation of Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, the chivalry of Raymond Chandler’s, Phillip Marlowe, the toughness of Hemmingway’s, Nick Adams, the existential angst of Knut Hamsun, and the nihilism of Celine’s, Fedinand Bardamu, from Journey to the End of Night. He is a drunk. He is a fighter. He is a loser. He is a poet. He is a dying breed.
Barfly is a one of a kind film that celebrates the romanticism of being down and out. We can only guess how many aspiring poets it has led astray and how many AA meetings it has engendered. Henri Chinaski, like his creator Charles Bukowski, who Jean Paul Sartre referred to as America’s greatest poet, was steadfast in his avoidance of the “cage with golden bars”, the 9 to 5 treadmill of material gain and conformity – the safe suburban jails where people exist in fear of life itself. He didn’t know what he wanted as much as what he didn’t want. So he drank and fought and recovered and wrote and lived and drank some more. And then wrote about it.
A role model for the uninhibited life of the starving artist and public enemy number one for the virtues of capitalism and society, Chinaski is the holy fool, town drunk, and village idiot who celebrates his poverty by giving what little he has to his fellow lost souls, and raising a toast to “all my friends.” He is a fantasy who reminds us of how sad and beautiful it can be to be lost and hungry. To have finally hit bottom. To answer to no one. To live outside the clock. To embrace uncertainty. To be intoxicated and free and lonely. To confront pain. To be alive.
Barfly is a happy accident. Charles Bukowski’s only script, Barbet Schroeder’s inspired direction, Mickey Rourke’s psychogenic fugue acting, Faye Dunaway’s perfect pitch and legs, Robby Muller’s command of camera and light, Bob Ziembicki’s skid row production design. Barfly is a slice of life film, a window into a hung over world wherein denizens of the street and the night suffer, brawl, recuperate, and celebrate the moments when they can buy another round for all of their friends. Barfly is more of a place to visit than a place to live. A reminder of what good fictions do best. We lift our glass to the best film of its kind.
Look girls, be realistic. None of us hardly knows each other. We’ve passed in the night and met again in a bar. Be realistic: there’s no reality in any of this.
Another round of drinks for everybody!
The bar patrons cheer.
*We highly recommend Hollywood from Black Sparrow Press. Charles Bukowski’s written account of the making of Barfly.