It's good to hear my lifestyle vindicated on the hallowed pages of Everything as that of a philosopher. Me and my barfly buddies appreciate it, but fact is, we don't philosophize much. Lots of grim silence some nights; other nights there's conversation, and often it's funny or even deep, but none of us feel like we're doing good.

It's the damn calls to me, makes me needful. Licking my lips just thinking about it...the barkeep who works Sundays is fond of Taco Bell; I keep meaning to bring her a sack of instant goodies. But you know...the Taco Bell is several blocks in the wrong direction. So there you have it: I need my spirits, she ain't getting no burritos.

I should treat my friends better, but the liquor calls and I must obey. All my friends are bartenders, they understand.

Charles Bukowski was a hard drinking writer and poet whose work was widely considered an intimate reflection of the soul of the gritty dead-end streets of working-class east Los Angeles {1}. In the sixties Bukowski had a love affair with Jane Cooney Baker, another heavy drinker who harbored demons from a tragic first marriage. Jane was Bukowski's first true love and died of alcohol abuse.

In 1987, director Barbet Schroeder commissioned Bukowski to write a semi-autobiographical screen-play based on his love affair with Jane {2}. That movie was Barfly. Bukowski's alter-ego, Henry Chinaski, was played by Mickey Rourke. Jane's alter-ego, Wanda was played by Faye Dunaway.

The film opens to a sweetly overdriven lick of Steve Cropper's guitar; the song is Booker T. and the MG's, "Hip Hug-Her." The scene is the gritty side of Los Angeles nightlife: Neon beer signs, neighborhood taverns, the bustle of the average Joe on his night on the town. Booker T Jones weaving a simple repeating melody on his Hammond B-3 organ, Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn grinding out a rhythmic refrain driven by the impeccably smooth drumming of Al Jackson Jr. The opening credits roll across a backdrop of a series short shots of local watering holes from the view of the sidewalk: The Sunset Lounge, The Hollyway, The Kenmore Lounge, Club Oasis, Crabby Joe's, The Golden Horn, Snug Harbor, The Silver Platter, Sideshow Lounge, Yoshiko's Catalina, The Ski Room, The Boulevard Inn, The Smog Cutter and back to The Golden Horn where you, the patron, walk through its front doors.

"Hip Hug-Her" is playing now on the jukebox. The bar room is lit with yellow neon and is empty, no patrons resting on the leather cushioned armrests of the bar. Traveling down the bar, the barman is at the end reading a newspaper. He is non-plused by the sound of a fight somewhere. The back door to the alley is open.

A fight is going on outside. The patrons of The Golden Horn are out there, shouting encouragements to the fighters, who taunt each other. The first fighter is Henry Chinaski: long greasy hair, in need of a shave, bleeding from his nose and lips. The second fighter is Eddie the barman; dark hair, moustache and a mullet, licking his bloody lip. Most of the patrons voice their support for Eddie. Henry lands a series of blows and pauses to insult Eddie's mother as Eddie is hunched over the hood of a car. Eddie surprises Henry with an upper-cut and, to the approval of the crowd, knocks Henry down and kicks the shit out of him. Henry is left out in the alley as the crowd files back into the tavern. The jukebox starts back up inside.

Jim, the daytime barkeep at The Golden Horn, likes Henry and lets him hang around and run errands for drinks. Henry rents a room nearby. Outside in a car, a young attractive woman and an older gentleman take note of Henry's arrival. Henry's room is Spartan to say the least. The walls are grubby, there is a small chest of drawers, a sink, a mirror, an uncovered light fixture mounted above. Henry turns on a radio, the only appliance that he owns, to a classical station and for a moment practices his boxing stance. Henry pulls the shade down and sits down at his small table littered with papers. Henry, his knuckles scabbed over and his face bruised and tired, picks up a stub of a pencil and begins to read.

"Some people never go crazy, what truly horrible lives they must live".

Henry wakes up on his bare mattress to the closing run of "The Form of Ecstasy" by Alexander Sviotti on the radio. He puts on his pants and staggers down the hall to use the bathroom. The older gentleman waiting in the car sneaks up the stairs with an eye on Henry. Henry walks back to his room but finds that his key won't open the door. Henry forces the door open, enters and rests on the bed. After a few moments he realized that the better appointed room is not his own. He quickly raids the fridge of some lunchmeat bread and a bottle of red wine. Peering out the door to check that he is not being seen, the older gentleman is cautiously exiting Henry's room at the same time. Henry does not see the older gentleman and hurries back into his own room. Henry then feasts luxuriously on his unexpected bounty of sandwiches and wine and lies back on his bed appreciating Mozart while finishing the bottle.

That evening the usual crowd is at The Golden Horn. Eddie is tending the bar and holding court with a group of admiring women. The last light of the afternoon streams into the bar as Henry saunters in. Soon Henry and Eddie set to antagonizing each other and end up in the alley again. Eddie, boasting that he can take Henry within five minutes, starts to take bets at 3:1 odds. Jim stands up for Henry and puts up a ten. Surprisingly, fueled by his afternoon windfall, Henry beats Eddie soundly. When Jim tries to give Henry his winnings, Henry is too proud to take it, but accepts a few drinks worth of the cash when Jim insists.

Henry walks over across the street to The Kenmore Lounge. The lounge is dimly lit with blue neon and has a few silent patrons. At the end of the bar is a blonde smoking and drinking a highball. She is tired and drunken. Her eyes are bagged and distant. Her hair is a bit greasy and untidy. But the years of hard drinking have not yet stolen the beauty from her full, high-cheek boned face. She is, as Henry notes, “some distressed goddess.”

"I can't stand people," Wanda says, "I hate them."
"Oh, yeah..." muses Henry.
"You hate them?"
"No..." , replies Henry, "But I seem to feel better when they're not around."
Henry buys a round of scotch-and-waters. He asks,
" what do you do?"
"I drink," replies Wanda.
Henry downs his drink and declares, "That's it. I'm broke"
"You mean you don't have any money?" Wanda asks.
"No money. No job. No ride. Back to normal."
Wanda finishes her drink, takes a drag from her cigarette, stamps it out in the ashtray, considers for a moment and says,
"Come with me."

Henry follows Wanda over to a liquor store where Wanda places a rather large order of beer and liquor and charges it to “Wilbur.” Henry inquires if Wilbur is Wanda’s pimp. Wanda replies that she is not a hooker, that Wilbur is just “an old man who likes to take care of her.” Wanda and Henry retire to Wanda’s apartment.

As they settle in with their drinks Wanda says,

“Just one thing…I don’t ever want to fall in love. I don’t ever want to go through that. I can’t…” then trails off distractedly.
Henry reassures Wanda, “Don’t worry." "Nobody’s ever loved me yet.”

In the morning Wanda throws Henry her extra key, calling Henry, “Lover”, explaining that “two can get the rent better than one.” Wanda however warns Henry, fore tellingly, that if a man came offering a fifth of scotch, she might go with him.

As Henry works on a bottle of scotch, Wanda calls him, “Mr. Vanbilderass”.

“The way you walk across the room, they way you act." "You’re the damnest barfly I’ve ever seen." "You act like some weird blue-blood." "Like royalty.”
Wanda, sipping scotch in her bathrobe, stretches out on the sofa.
“The first thing I noticed about you…were your legs.” “I could look at a woman’s legs for hours,” says Henry.
Wanda hikes her bathrobe up to her creamy white upper thighs, and replies, “I’ve got nothing… but time.”

Later Henry and Wanda stop in at The Golden Horn with Henry’s belongings: the radio, a small valise and a paper sack. Jim greets Henry noting that the last time he saw Henry, “he had nothing, and now he had a woman and a radio.” Henry also has Jim cash an income tax refund check and gives it to Wanda to cover the rent on the apartment. Perusing the want-ads and finding an opening for a laborer, Henry declares he is going to hop on a bus and apply. He then buys a round of shots. Wanda expresses her apprehension and tries to convince Henry not to leave her at the bar. When Henry returns to the bar, Wanda is gone. Jim tells Henry that Wanda left with Eddie.

When Wanda returns to the apartment that next day, Henry rages,

“Why did it have to be Eddie?!" "He symbolized everything that disgusts me!" "Obviousness!" "Unoriginal, macho energy!" "Ladies man!”

They argue and Henry shows Wanda the door. As Wanda leaves, sobbing, Wanda beats Henry with her purse which conceals some weight heavy enough to knock Henry unconscious, bleeding badly from his scalp. When Henry comes to, he is examines himself in the mirror and begins to narrate a stream of poetry as he pours whiskey over his wounds,

“Nothing but dripping sink…An empty bottle…Euphoria. Youth, fenced in…stabbed…and shaven. To what words…propped up to die.”

At this moment, the gentleman who had days earlier been snooping in Henry’s old room knocks on the door. Henry opens the door: a bloody, whiskey sodden fright. The man inquires, “Are you Henry Chinanski?” Henry replies, “No, I’m Leon Spinks!” and slams the door shut. Henry begins to rage, whiskey bottle in hand, throwing Wanda’s clothes out the window before passing out again.

Awakened by the neighbors fighting, Henry sees Wanda’s clothes on the lawn. Wanda calls and asks Henry if he wants to see her again. Henry quotes, Tolstoy,

“Regard the society of women as a necessary unpleasantness of life, and avoid it as much as possible.”

Wanda then asks Henry if he wants a drink to which Henry replies, “Sure, I could always use a drink,” and then scrambles to retrieve Wanda’s clothing. Wanda arrives with another delivery of alcohol and shortly the couple settle in to their drinks and to the entertainment of the man his wife arguing next door.

The next day, Wanda declares that it is her turn to look for work. Henry escorts her to the bus stop. When Henry returns he is confronted by the attractive young woman who, days earlier, had been stalking Henry from a car outside his old room.

She introduces herself as Tully Sorenson, producer of “The Contemporary Review of Art and Literature.” She tells Henry that he has been “discovered.” Henry invites Tully into Wanda’s apartment for drinks. Henry confesses that he always thought he would be “discovered” after his death.”

Tully betrays that she thinks Henry is well on his way and inquires,

“Why don’t you stop drinking." "Anyone can be a drunk.”
Henry counters, “Anyone can be a non-drunk." "It takes a special talent to be a drunk." "It takes endurance." "Endurance is more important that truth.”

Tully bears a royalty check for $500 . Henry tells Tully that he cannot cash it, so Tully drives Henry to a Hollywood bank. Afterwards, Tully confesses that she has learned much about Henry,

“You’ve been jailed 12 times. "You like Mahler and Mozart." "You can’t dance." "You hate movies." "You love avocados and Schopenhauer." "When I read your stories, I had to find out.” “They made me feel…and they made me curious." "Very curious.” “You can really write." Why do you live like a bum?”
“I am a bum,” Henry retorts, “What do you want me to do, write about the sufferings of the upper classes?”

Henry and Wanda drive up into the Hollywood hills to Tully’s huge gated mansion. In the guest house, Tully brings a bottle of scotch which Henry begins to serve. Referring to Henry’s life, Tully observes,

“It seems to be a limited world." "Is there anything else to it?”
Henry replies, “No, it is a self-sufficient illusion.”

Tully proves to be quite a lightweight. As the bottle is nears its completion, Tully drunkenly tells Henry,

“In the guest house, you could write in peace.”
Henry counters, “Nobody who could write a damn could write in peace.”
“I take it you don’t care for my world,” Tully replies.
“Baby look around, it’s a cage with golden bars.”

Tully drunkenly staggers and falls into a sofa and Henry puts her to bed. Later that night they wake together. Henry makes ready to leave, confesing,

“I belong on the streets." "I don’t feel right here." "I can’t breathe.”
Tully, obviously infatuated, is heartbroken, “You had all this feeling in your stories…I thought maybe it came from you.”

Henry leaves and Tully, alone in her opulence, crawls across her glass coffee table in a white satin robe to retrieve a crystal whiskey glass.

Henry returns to Wanda and showers her in bed with the $500. Shocked at first, and suspicious of the perfume that she smells on Henry, Wanda informs Henry that she is getting dressed to go out.

The movie ends back in The Golden Horn where Henry and Wanda stroll in arm-in-arm to the loud and accepting reception of the regular crowd. They sit down in front of Eddie the barkeep who is incredulous when Henry announces, brandishing his roll of bills, that he is buying for the house. “Start trotting, my friends are thirsty,” Henry orders Eddie, blowing cigar smoke in his face. The barroom applauds and Eddie begins to pour the shots. Jim warns Henry that Eddie is itching for a rematch. Henry dismisses Jim, raises his shot and shouts, “To all my friends!” The barroom applauds and all down their shots. Eddie starts to fume and rage, and Henry continues to antagonize him and orders up another round, “To all my friends!

But before violence breaks out between Henry and Eddie, Tully enters the bar and slides up to Henry. Wanda recognizes Tully’s perfume and hauls Tully off her barstool starting a catfight the amusement of the barroom. After a heated fight, Tully is vanquished and Wanda victoriously embraces her man, Henry. Henry then realizes that the time for main event, his fight with Eddie, is upon him and the crowd files out into the alley. But the camera backs up and leaves out the front door which closes with the opening licks of Steve Cropper's guitar in “Hip Hug-Her” once again.


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