Mickey Rourke’s swagger was unforgettable as he played this legendary poet

When thinking Mickey Rourke, wrestler or supervillain, certainly springs to mind, which is ironic considering he plays one of the greatest real poets ever penned in one of his finest roles. The poet in question is Charles Bukowski, whom fans of his work refer to as the ultimate working-class poet who has also worked as an occasional novelist and screenwriter. A counterculturalist at heart, somewhere between Allen Ginsberg and Henry Miller in subject matter and style, no one has ever made a single pint of beer sound so meaningful, and no one has ever spoken of the misery of the working class with such admiration and authenticity. 1987 Director Barbet Schroeder brought the semi-autobiographical Barfly (self-written by Bukowski) comes to life, its radically subversive narrative proving the perfect embodiment of the poet’s source material.

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Mickey Rourke, a huge star among youngsters and a sex symbol of the era thanks to his roles in rumble fish And 9½ weeks, proved the perfect star to capture Bukowski’s nihilistic and everyday obsessions. As in many of Bukowki’s prose novels, there are biographical elements throughout. However, the film is less about telling a Hollywood story and more about capturing the essence of Bukowski’s poetry, which is the complete opposite of the American Dream. Before we delve into how Rourke’s brilliant performance takes the film to a new level, however, we need to discuss why Bukowski’s poetry remains as seminal as it was when he first began publishing it in the 1940s.

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Who is the poet Charles Bukowski?

Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway in Barfly
Image via The Cannon Group, Inc.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Bukowski’s poetry has broadened the horizons of what poetry is actually capable of. If you have trouble identifying with poetry because of its classical and cultural-scientific character, Bukowski is your man, because his work is not so much about nightingales and meadowlarks as it is about everyday working-class life. It’s the difference between Victor Fleming‘S Blown by the wind And Martin Scorsese‘S Mean Streets, that is, Bukowski shifted the perception of poetry from exceptionalism and focused it on the dirt of the street. His favorite subjects are alcoholism, prostitution and gambling, while his directly relatable and realistic style of writing challenges the notion of poetry as high art. His poetry proved so anti-establishment that the The FBI even had an extensive file on him but could never find real dirt.

Poems collected in his book Burn in water, drown in flames (undoubtedly one of the rawest titles of all time), look no further than the first few lines of “2P.M. Beer,” in which he writes, “Nothing matters but flopping down on a mattress with cheap dreams and a beer while the leaves die and the horses die and the innkeepers’ wives stare down the hallways.” The lack of punctuation is important , as it reflects his unfiltered approach to writing. Similar to the absurd philosophy of Albert CamusLosing himself in the details of the beauty of everyday life, Bukowski writes solely about the sensation. As much as school teachers like it Robert Frostis “The Road Not Taken” or Shakespeareis “Sonett 18” (“Shall I compare you to a summer day?”), a poem like “2 p.m. “Beer” is something that anyone can pick up and find themselves in, even if they’re not exactly proud of it.

Why does Mickey Rourke’s performance in “Barfly” stand out?

Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway in Barfly
Image via The Cannon Group, Inc.

The main character in question, Henry Chinaski (a pseudonym for Bukowski and the star of some of his best novels), is a walking middle finger to societal norms. He spends his days drinking, his nights fighting, and in between making love, only pausing to write hardcore poetry about the beauty of living life of desire. One of his best writing lines encapsulates his animal spirit: “Some people never go mad. What a truly horrible life they must lead.”

Watching Mickey Rourke play Chinaski is like watching a man from another planet act with so much confidence and pride, despite having nothing but his poetry (which he never voluntarily speaks brings) has to show. His teeth are chipped, his knuckles are incredibly injured, and he constantly looks like he’s about to drop dead, although his cocky half-smile means you know he doesn’t just get back on his feet, they do will enjoy. He’s not just a handsome Hollywood boy planted on a working-class movie set, but the real guy who’s always ready to rumble at every turn.

“Barfly’s structure brilliantly adheres to their anti-establishment weapons.”

Faye Dunaway and Mickey Rourke in Barfly
Image via The Cannon Group, Inc.

Hollywood biographies often portray an artist’s classic rise, fall, and resurgence, including those outside of the musical spectrum John C Reilly attracted brilliant attention Go Hard: The Dewey Cox Story). In the case of Bukowski, however, that doesn’t really apply to the spirit of his poetry. The most interesting thing about the film is that it offers Chinaski an escape from this life of poverty. A wealthy publisher discovers his poetry and takes him back to her stately mansion, which Chinaski describes as nothing more than “a cage with bars of gold.” The protagonist actively resists change, even if it means no longer having to fight, stating that “growth is for plants” and that “no one who could write at all could ever write in peace.” Sure is all better than stealing food from your neighbors just to have the energy to argue with a bartender, but for Chinaski (and by extension, Bukowski) that just isn’t the case.

At the end of the film, Chinaski refuses the golden ticket offered to him by the upper class and instead decides to live with his alcoholic lover Wanda (Faye Dunaway) despite the pain their lifestyle brings. It’s a toxic, self-destructive compound created in Hell that Chinaski takes a liking to. If Picasso had been happy all his life, it would be highly unlikely that he would ever have painted Guernica. The film ends poetically exactly as it began: Chinaski starts an argument with Eddie (Frank Stallone) behind the bar, and it’ll probably knock out more of his teeth as a result. What the film ultimately claims is that for some, this is as much of a calling as having an office job or starting a family.

Barfly embodies the true nature of Bukowski’s poetry, warts and all, and let’s face it… it’s the warts that really interest us. Last year Baz Luhrman‘S elvis He may have prioritized myth over man, but for those who like their idols a little more grounded and flawed, there’s almost no better place than the cheapest bar in sight where Bukowski’s spirit reigns supreme. Mickey Rourke’s appearance in the almost structureless biopic is not a narrative compromise, but a work full of dead poetry.

Dustin Huang

Dustin Huang is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Dustin Huang joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: dustinhuang@24ssports.com.

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