Thoughts on Bukowski's Barfly

My boyfriend got this movie for Christmas - one of the many gifts his mother gave him. At the time, the only thing I knew about this film was that it's pretty rare to find on DVD, making it a somewhat coveted, look-how-cool-I-am-to-own-this, movie*. After I bought Ham on Rye a month or two ago, Ryan was quick to tell me the Barfly was also a semi-autobiography of Bukowski's life for which he actually wrote the screenplay. After finishing Ham on Rye I was so excited Ryan had Barfly and we had the chance to watch it earlier this week. 

The first thing I should mention is that there isn't a lot of overlap between Ham on Rye and Barfly. The first focuses on Bukowski's early years, his adolescence into his early manhood, while Barfly begins with Bukowski's adulthood. Those differences aside, both the book and the movie exude a gritty, crude look at the life of a man who doesn't really give a shit about anything except where he can find his next drink. As with the book, the movie follows Bukowski's alter-ego Henry Chianski. Henry, played by Mickey Rourke, is as smarmy and sordid as he came across in Ham on Rye, if not more so.

Most notably for me, the film began and ended with the same scene, signaling Henry's lack of growth or progression throughout the entirety of the movie. It's almost as though he has taken hold of the person he believes himself to be and doesn't let go of it, for better or worse. The film as a whole is quite dark and mostly miserable, it's also very entertaining and at times, even cheerful, but don't ask me to put my finger on any scene that leads me to this conclusion. Oh, and this may go without saying, but Faye Dunaway's performance is seriously AH-mazing. Upon finishing the movie I couldn't help but think that if Bukowski were alive today, he would really hate all of us in the "me" generation with our over-the-top consumerism and self-absorption. 
This is a world where everybody's gotta do something. Y'know, somebody laid down this rule that everybody's gotta do something, they gotta be something. You know, a dentist, a glider pilot, a narc, a janitor, a preacher, all that.  Sometimes I just get tired of thinking of all the things that I don't wanna do. All the things that I don't wanna be. Places I don't wanna go, like India, like getting my teeth cleaned. Save the whale, all that, I don't understand that.
After the film we watched the special features, which include four clips from interviews with Bukowski. His outlook on life is incredibly interesting, but also incredibly pessimistic. I should also note that Bukowski wrote a book that chronicles his experience writing the screenplay for Barfly, entitled Hollywood. In addition, Bukowski himself does make a cameo in the movie, playing what else, but a patron at the bar. If you've read and enjoyed even one of Bukowski's novels, I have to tell you I don't think you'll be disappointed with this movie. 

*I did find a copy of it on Amazon, so I'm not exactly sure what the difference between this rare edition vs. the mass market edition, if there even is one. Regardless, I still think it's cool if you own this movie.

Release date: September 30th, 1987
Written by: Charles Bukowski
Directed by: Barbet Schroeder
Presented by: Francis Ford Coppola

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