Barfly Review…Sorta

1994 has been by far the most significant of my life, in terms of defining my taste in art, whether it is film or literature, truly maturing and setting the tone for what would eventually become an obsessive search for truth and viscera and originality.
At 17-18 years of age I was already a major film geek. That train had already left the station upon seeing:
An elephant-sized boulder chasing a frantic Dr. Jones through an ancient cave.
The DeLorean.
Severed ear movies X 2.

But man, 1994, that was the year.

1994 brought us PULP FICTION, which in turn brought a magazine interview with the young QT, where he spoke of his undying love for all things kung-fu, exploitative, blaxploitative, and grindhouse.

Already a fan of these same types of films, but lacking his extensive vocabulary and knowledge and, up to that point, the access, my credentials were somewhat lacking.

Until I discovered the Hollywood Video in nearby Ogden, where I was briefly pretending to attend college, had all kinds of this shit. COFFY. ROLLING THUNDER. MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE. SUSPIRIA. THE SAVAGE SEVEN. ETC.

I ate that shit up. I rented them by the stack, as many as I could carry at a time, and never incurred a late fee. I was always back for more within a few days.

Rather than attending college, I created my own film geekdom school, in which I was the only student.

At that time in my life I worked almost exclusively night shifts. Which left me hours upon hours of free time during the day to “waste” as I saw fit.

One day I was casually searching the fiction shelves at Barnes & Noble. “Casually” is actually the wrong word to use. There was nothing casual about my search. I was becoming a desperate man. Bored with the books I had been reading, sick to death of hearing from old farts what they considered to be classic literature, I was on a full on search for a goddamned-motherfucking literary revolution.

And there it was. Just sitting there on the shelves, surrounded by bullshit written by poseurs. The cover was green, the title text red, the cover photo of an old, white-haired man smoking a cigarette. And the title of the book was TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS. The author of the book was simply “Bukowski”.

I picked up the book, glanced through it, and I swear to god, from the purchase, to the walk home, to my bedroom, the fucking thing never left my hand until I finished reading it later that night, drunk on bourbon, smoking a cigarette, enjoying the life-changing day.

It’s difficult to boil down what exactly made the book so special. But I’ll try. It was the humor. The humanity. The perversity. The lack of shame or self consciousness about the perversity. The “fuck you”. The looseness of the prose. The way Bukowski made me feel better/different about my own writing.

Over the course of the next year I devoured every fucking Bukowski book in existence. I special ordered what I could not find in stores. I devoured his style as well and incorporated it into my own writing. Buk’s style was simple. There was no style. Just write that shit in the most natural way possible. Don’t clunk it up trying too hard to be fancy. Let it go. Let it flow.

One of the early Buk books that I read, probably 4th or 5th on the list, was HOLLYWOOD.

I knew nothing of the novel’s plot as I flipped through those initial few pages. But as I dug deeper and deeper in the story I began to realize something pretty fucking amazing. One of those “motherfucker!!!” moments.

The character of Tom Pell was a thinly veiled version of Sean Penn. The pop star Ramona? That was Madonna. Also in the book were barely disguised versions of Mickey Rourke. Faye Dunaway. Dennis Hopper. Barbet Schroeder. Roger Ebert. Among many others.

The novel Hollywood was a true account of the behind the scenes “making of” BARFLY.

With zero exaggeration, I can claim that by 1994 I had watched BARFLY at least a dozen times. I was only 11 when this film about a few rambling, semi-eventful days in the life of a drunken poet sleazed its way into my soul.

I was a weird kid.

Through at least a dozen more viewings post-1994, and through the eyes of a more weathered, experienced human, the film more than holds up.

Not much happens during the 97 minute run time. It’s fairly loose in terms of structure and performance and dialogue. I would say it’s the closest we have come, as far as films made on American soil, to touching GODard.


Bukowksi has a quick cameo as a drunkard in a bar.

Matthew Stoker Written by: