Although BARFLY (1987) is best known for bringing the written work of the late Charles Bukowski to the screen, this European production was the first to tackle his plastered prose. Adapted from his collection of stories, Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of OrdinaryMadness, this autobiographical turn stars Ben Gazzara as a drunken poet dealing with assorted women, limitless liquor, and the elusive possibility of love.
Charles Serking (Ben Gazzara) is an infamous writer, first seen lecturing to a young audience and getting robbed by a flirtatious 13-year-old. Returning home to Los Angeles and his squalid, SRO apartment, Serking returns to his old routine. In one early encounter, he's attracted to a sleazy blonde
(Susan Tyrrell), follows her to her apartment, and rapes her. Afterward, she tells him she enjoyed it, only to have him hauled off by the police.
With the charges dropped, he spots the beautiful prostitute Cass (Ornella Muti), who bellies up to the bar, tells him he's ugly, and promptly shoves a foot-long safety pin through both of her cheeks. Realizing that he's found the woman of his dreams, he takes her back to his place, and soon she's
demanding more sex from him. Initially rebelling from Cass's passion, he finally takes her to a favorite seaside hotel, and asks her to marry him. Her response is to mutilate herself by safety-pinning her vagina shut. Attempting to fit into the 9-to-5 world, Serking even gets a legitimate job in
New York City, complete with his own cubicle. But the moment he feels trapped, he sneaks in a six-pack and begins lobbing empties at the other working stiffs. Fired and back in LA, he learns that Muti committed suicide, and he soon hits rock bottom, staggering the streets, blind drunk. Making his
way to the beach, he composes a poem for a young girl, and life goes on.
Whether you love him or hate him, the written work of Charles Bukowski has a distinctive, believable voice. And on the surface, Marco Ferreri seemed like a good choice as director, since his work incorporates a similar attraction for excess. Unfortunately, this adaptation misses the mark, and it's
no surprise that Bukowski abhorred the end product. Although appropriately seedy and touching upon all of Bukowski's favorite themes, it rarely displays his more delicately perverse sensibilities--becoming little more than a series of sullen sexual vignettes. Ben Gazzara is fine as the pie-eyed
poet, but the film never makes the distinction between being world-weary and simply bored. Worse still, Serking seems like little more than a lecher prone to pretentious prose, with his cringe-inducing voice-over driving that point home. And despite Muti's exotic beauty, her acting range amounts
to two types of pouts. Falling short on almost every conceivable level, this ends up unfathomable for viewers who know nothing of Bukowski's work, and unendurable for those who do. (Graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
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