1987 // USA // Barbet Schroeder // September 3, 2010 // VHS - Warner Brothers (1998)
"No money, no job, no rent. Hey, I'm back to normal." Barfly is one of those films that's been languishing without a proper American DVD release, so I had to turn to VHS when I wanted to share it with friends. I had seen the film years ago, but apparently remembered virtually nothing of it, because the screening I caught at this year's Ebertfest left me gobsmacked and grinning from ear to ear. You don't have to be a fan of Charles Bukowski to appreciate what he and director Schroeder are doing, which is less about telling a story (there isn't much of one) than about sketching a portrait of a man, a lifestyle, and most significantly, an ethos. That ethos is personified in Bukowski-analogue Henry Chinaski, portrayed by a paunchy, limp-haired Mickey Rourke, affecting a Snagglepuss cadence that works wonders with every muttered aside. ("Misdirected animosity...") Between Rourke, whose charisma here is so molten it burns through the dingy sheets and blood-spattered boxer shorts, and riveting a Faye Dunaway in Walking Husk Mode, Barfly is inescapably an actor's film. Yet there's plenty to love here formally, whether from the unobtrusive, marvelous movements of Robby Müller's camera or the way that he and Schroeder convey the distinct scuzziness of Los Angeles' fleabag apartments and dive bars. You can practically smell the rail scotch and sour armpit funk. In short, it's a smart, funny, enthralling little film that more people should see.