I first watched Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical “Barfly” back in the late 80’s or early 90’s. I was on a Mickey Rourke kick — had just seen “9 1/2 Weeks” and then “Wild Orchid” — and thought this looked good. I had no idea who Charles Bukowski was. Hell, I didn’t even read poetry back then, let alone write it.
In any case, I took it home and popped it in the VCR. I had been around alcoholics all of my life, but none like Rourke’s and Dunaway’s characters. These people were fucking insane! The drunks in my life did some crazy shit when they were pissed, but not like this. My drunks at least managed to maintain some semblance of a “respectable” life — jobs, cars, homes — not raving lunatics living in some shithole wearing the same underwear day after day. Bukowski’s world of “Barfly” was completely alien to me. But not for long.
I went off the deep end in the mid-90’s and basically became a variant of Rourke’s character. I lived in my car for a while. Lived in an abandoned warehouse for a few months. I was always drunk or tweaked (or both) and I started writing poetry. Bad poetry. Really crappy poetry. And I rarely changed my underwear.
Long story short, I managed to climb out of the gutter and get a “real” job and started a little family. I was still a drunk, but I was a functional one. At least I thought I was. In any case, here I am twenty-five years or so since my first viewing of “Barfly” and I’m mostly sober — though I’m completely fucked up physically, mentally and emotionally from a couple of decades of fifth-a-day-plus drinking. And I’m watching the movie again, but now from a slightly different perspective.
When I first saw the movie, I found it disturbing (to say the least). This time around, though, it was like watching a home movie. In fact, it actually felt like a homecoming. There I was in a seedy dive bar, fucked up and full of shit, surrounded by drunks and bums and hookers and I was home. That was my scene, my people. My heaven. My hell. My world.
And I didn’t find a damn thing disturbing about it except that I didn’t have a drink in my hand so I could get the total immersive experience.
I’m glad I watched it again and especially glad I did it sober. Seeing so many aspects of myself (good and bad, past and present), many of which I ignored or buried, has given me a lot to think through. And maybe even a poem or two.