Barfly

The first four letters of this film say it all, one of the most besotted, piss-tank movies of all time (Barfly is perhaps only matched by Withnail and I when it comes to drunken debauchery).

Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) is the regal title drunk, a wastrel and would-be novelist who needs “fuel” to take out nemesis Eddie the Bartender (terrifically portrayed with thug-menace by Frank Stallone). He finds it in the form of a sandwich, pilfered straight from the grubby hands of a fatso at the end of the bar, and proceeds to lay out Eddie with a savage beating.

When he’s sent packing, ending up in another down-and-out saloon, he makes the acquaintance of Wanda, a gone-to-seed goddess with legs from here til that half-drunk bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon. That’s Faye Dunaway, whose character matches Henry’s step for sloppy, staggering step. She’s a kept woman and two of them run up a big bar and liquor tab on her lover’s credit, Wilbur.

One of the unlikeliest of Cannon Productions, a company not exactly known for putting out films depicting gritty realism, Barfly is a semi-autobiographical account of the life lived by lout, Charles Bukowski, the infamous German-American novelist and piss-tank poet of Skid Row. (to the extent it succeeds, is best answered by the pretty good document about Buk’s life, Born into This).

What’s amusing in this day and age of leaner, scaled back publishing world, is the lengths to which assignment editors in Barfly go to track down talent, especially to Henry’s neck of the woods, in a one-room flop-house with stained walls and ceilings.

While there’s not much in the way of a narrative, Barfly gets grit points. The barflies all look like the very real typical lowlife/degenerates you’d see in any big city (though now, with the kinds of saloons depicted in Los Angeles either shuttered or gentrified, the best place to see them is in burger joints and diners that peddle $3 beers).

Rourke and Dunaway make an amazing couple, and Grant and Hepburn, but they bring a considerable charm and authenticity to their respective roles.

**** (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast of Barfly too!]

Making Contact aka Joey

Despite there being a demonic ventriloquist in Making Contact, nobody quips, “you’d be angry too if you had a hand up your butt.” Lost opportunity.

Despite its title, Making Contact is not an alien move. That’s just one of the many, many odd things about this one.

Youngster Joey loses his father, and we, the audience don’t know either the extent of the relationship, nor what happened to pops. It’s not like that’d be dramatically interesting or anything. Soon after the burial, Joey is communicating with him through the great beyond, and via a ridiculous giant red telephone.

Soon, Joey is possessed by the aforementioned ventriloquist dummy that looks like Dr. Edwin Tyrell, the replicant creator from Blade Runner. Then Joey develops telekinetic powers. Why? Damned if we know, but fire us a message if you do…

Soon, Joey’s telekinetic powers are the subject of lots of scientific investigation (that is, LOTS of investigation. Soon, about a hundred or so neuroscientists, psychologists, physiologists, descend on the homestead).

When it was released in North America, the movie switched titles to Joey and had a bunch of minutes trimmed from the finished product. At 79 minutes, it makes not a lick of sense. Perhaps at 98 minutes, there’s more meat here?

In 2016, Kino Lorber announced a Blu-ray with new high definition transfer.

(Check out our podcast discussion of Joey/Making Contact here)