barflyWhen we read Charles Bukowski’s short fiction, novels, and essays, we never hear anything about the movies. Why? “I hate movies,” he mentions in an interview about Barfly (1987), the film he wrote the script for.

Director Barbet Schroeder, a fan of Buk’s work, telephoned him one day to propose collaboration. Buk quickly slammed down the phone. Schroeder was persistent however and immediately redialed; Buk answered again and was told hastily that a script would earn him $20,000.

Thus the birth of Barfly.

Like much of Buk’s fiction Barfly is a semi-autobiographical work, taking place sometime in the author and poet’s mid-twenties, before he rose to fame.

Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, Iron Man 2) plays Henry Chinaski (Buk’s pseudonym). Rourke plays Bukowski better than Bukowski plays himself, the author said.

Chinaski finds himself at his favorite bar, day and night, either at the bottom of a bottle or on the wrong end of a punch. But Buk’s stories aren’t just about spending your last dollar on beer; his tales are also, in perverse or heart-warming ways, much about love (and sex). Chinaski meets an alcoholic woman (Faye Dunaway) and so the two, for better or worse, move in together and attempt to start a life.

What matters most about Bukowski’s work is its focus on the underbelly of America. As Chinaski mentions to a publisher whom he meets, then has sex with, he will not—like the rest of literature—write about the woes and troubles of the upper class. Chinaski delivers these wonderful monologues about wealth, career, sex, and love, and here a philosophy emerges.

Why must we do anything, Chinaski asks in the middle of the film? Days are better spent drinking and writing. And contrary to what Bukowski naively says, movies are worthwhile too.

We hope to see you Wednesday, November 6th, 8pm, Artspace (378 Aylmer Street), for Barbet Schroeder and Charles Bukowski’s Barfly. For info: www.facebook.com/trentfilmsociety;
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I’m a recent graduate of the Cultural Studies PhD program. My research includes contemporary film, film theory, and the history of moving-image pornography. In addition to writing for Arthur, this semester I’m teaching in the Cultural Studies department (Intro to Integrated Arts) and Continuing Education (Writing Short Film Scripts). I also work at the Trend (come say hi!), among other small jobs as they come up.