Barfly (1987) – By Charles Rector

 Mickey Rourke is one of those actors whose careers have gone from the pinnacle of success to near total free fall. Some movie critics have described his fall from grace as being “career suicide.” However, a close look at the man and his career reveals a decent number of box office failures that were actually very good flicks that simply did not receive the audience that they deserved. Of these fiscal failures on Rourke’s resume, one that especially stands out is the 1987 effort Barfly.

Barfly is a most unusual flick for a number of reasons. It was a rare attempt at producing a quality movie by the infamous team of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus (henceforth referred to as Golan-Globus). The screenplay was penned by the celebrity author Charles Bukowski who was already a favorite on the collegiate creative writing scene and a favorite of pretentious artiistic types in general. Since his death in 1994, Bukowski’s popularity has waned considerably. Bukowski was allowed a great deal of artistic control over Barfly to the point that he was allowed to get away with making his personal favorite actress Faye Dunaway the star of the movie. The strengths and weaknesses of Barfly’s script mirror those of Bukowski’s writing in general.

Almost all of the action in Barfly takes place in drinking establishments. Alcoholic poet Harry Chinaski (a fictionalized version of Bukowski himself played by Mickey Rourke) is a key mainstay of the drinking scene in Los Angeles. It is not too much of a stretch to say that Chinaski spends most of his life in the bars, drinking it away. One night he meets fellow alcoholic Wanda Wilcox (Faye Dunaway) and it is literally love at first sight. Unlike most of Chinaski’s previous alcoholic loves, you can see that Wanda was once a great beauty. Both Chinaski and Wilcox strike up a great relationship and they join together in drinking the nights away.

Whilst drinking in a bar one night, Harry and Wanda meet one Tully Sorenson who is a publisher. Harry shows Sorenson some of his poetry and Sorenson decides that she wants to publish them. Harry’s book of poetry becomes a big success and he enjoys 15 minutes of fame. Sorenson tries to encourage him to write more, but Harry decides that he would rather spend his nights with Wanda drinking at the bar, wasting the time away.

As you can see, Barfly is a most unusual film. It takes a look at bar life through the life story of real life alcoholic Charles Bukowski or rather Harry Chinaski as he is known in the movie. Barfly is especially unusual in that it was a quality dramatic production from Golan-Globus. Golan-Globus had a well-deserved reputation for producing dreck of the very worst sort. . The fact that Golan-Globus made what amounts to an art house movie is nothing short of amazing.

So, in the end what are we to make of Barfly? Well, for one thing Mickey Rourke turned in a fantastic performance as Harry Chinaski. It was a crime that he did not at least receive an Academy Awards nomination for Best Actor for his performance. Dunaway’s acting was very good as well, though not quite up to Oscar caliber. On the other hand, Robby Muller’s cinematography left something to be desired. Barfly is one of those movies that once you see it, it is pretty much impossible to forget. Barfly is fully recommended.