Here in this nice column we’ve dedicated the space to customer’s and friend’s of the store reviews. Buckle in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
The second feature our friend, Axel Matfin, is excited to tell you about is the classic, Barfly! Here’s his take to all his friends…
Directed by Barbet Schroeder (Single White Female, Murder by Numbers)
Written by: Charles Bukowski
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway
Henry Chinaski is a slob a drunk and ne’er do well who spends most of his time in dives soaking up as much alcohol as possible and making a nuanced nuisance of himself to the patrons and bar staff, before returning to a shitty apartment to scribble down poetic truths and insight that he is only able to capture once he’s three sheets to the wind. He lives an unapologetic, even gleeful, existence, as a first rate piece of shit in a world of fantastical destitution. Henry Chinaski is of course the alter ego of twentieth century American poet laureate and notorious dirtbag, Charles Bukowski. In this film, Bukowski’s character is played with drooling lecherous aplomb by the then rising star, Mickey Rourke. This is one of Rourke’s finest roles. He grounds the character with the physicality of a slouching wet-faced slob, generating a charming aura around him while delivering the crafty soliloquy for which Bukowski is known. It would seem that Chinaski has potential in both his writing and character, if only he could just get his shit together. But that’s the thing, he doesn’t want to get it together. He see’s the beautiful fleeting futility in life, and his faith in the harrowing awful world is salvaged in a bottle and he likes it that way.
The film takes Chinaski from a back alley bar bout of fisticuffs with a bartender who represents all the fake shallowness Henry hates, to an extensive drunk and ongoing affair with kept woman and fellow inebriate Wanda (the professionally understated Faye Dunaway), and eventually to the swanky and enticing estate of Tully (Alice Krige), a publisher who believes in the power of Henry’s work. Wanda’s alcoholism is her master and in this she inevitably disappoints Henry, who after a fleeting moment of human grief, is engaged once more in his convictions about the inherent fallibility of humanity. Tully reels Henry in with beauty, a considerable amount of drinking money and the promise of a peaceful place to write, which gives Henry reason to pause before his disdain for such niceties resurges and he sneers at the very thought of peaceful writing. Despite his experiences with both Wanda and Tully there is a resolution in Chinaski to adhere to his slovenly ways and self interest, for that is where he finds truth.
The film is grounded in the dirty neon haze and sparse grunge of American bars and brought life by the kind of jangling classic blues rock that one would assume is always playing in such shit-holes. This sparse and simple production design gives the actors more empty space to fill, and with this size of performance they usher in a heightened reality. This heightened reality is a direct proponent of how one of the film’s most important factors is portrayed, the factor being alcohol. Barfly is a film that is drenched in booze. Beers. Whiskey and water. Straight scotch. You name it they’re gonna drink it, and drink it fast and have some more. Although the film presents the world of serious alcoholics it, much like Bukowski, revels in it. Despite the rampant abuse of alcohol there was no point in the film where it really feels like this is getting out of hand. It’s a passionate embrace of the slow burn of true ongoing drunkenness. The drunks in this film love being drunk, and they’re not stopping. This type of characterization is not typical for the presentation of substance abuse on screen in that it doesn’t try to make any points about whether being an alcoholic is good or bad, but it does magnify the human failings or traits that accompany the affliction. Director, Barbet Schroeder, understands that the fascination with Bukowski comes from his entrenched life in and glorious expression of these scummy locales. He exists in a place that most normal people would not choose to experience for themselves, though the experience of it is fascinating to them. The collection of barflies in this film all have their own colour and tenor that fills out the rest of that aforementioned empty space. Barbet’s composed naturalism of the scenes results in every minor character exploding off the screen fully realized and clearly defined.
It would be easy to have just pulled a bunch of quotes to describe this feature, but it would do a disservice to the viewer to reveal these sardonic nuggets of shit covered gold outside the film which is an original screenplay and not adapted from a singular piece of Bukowski work. The script was written by Bukowski himself, commissioned through Schroeder by the French film board in the early eighties, and the experience of making the film he would later turn into a novel entitled Hollywood. The film itself languished in a long production and almost didn’t see the screens as the production Cannon Films was on it’s way to bankruptcy. In the end, Francis Ford Coppola, stepped in, aiding in the final leg of the film’s release, for which he received a presented by credit at the start of the movie. The film was released at the 1987 Cannes film festival where it’s director, Barbet Schroeder, received the Palme d’Or. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Bukowski, Barfly is a quality condensing of the tone and breadth of his oeuvre and for anyone who is familiar I would say it’s the best cinematic representation of the man’s work.
This week’s feature is a totally fucked up piece of craziness titled Singapore Sling. Here is local author, Axel Matfin’s, take on it.
Singapore Sling (1990)
Written & Directed by: Nikos Nikolaidis
Starring: Meredyth Herold, Panos Thanassoulis, Michele Valley
A black and white wetness fills the screen as two women dressed in goggles, royal robes and scant negligee dig in a muddy pit. The technical proficiency of the lighting and composition presented are akin to that of golden age cinema, the carefully arranged shadows framing the interior of the shots. Dense rainwater washes down the women’s faces and they exclaim with ecstasy with each shovel full of thick dirt they remove from the hole. A voiceover begins in florid Italian with english subtitles that highlight the design and misdirection of the dialogue.
“…I was the sort of guy, broke, homeless and without friends who always chases after lost causes with female names that lead nowhere. Mine was called Laura, and I met her many years ago. My world was a sick and pitiful one, where trouble from a girl like that had to happen. It’s been three years since I lost her and every time I smell jasmine on a passing girl, I think of her and start looking for trouble again. And so I got to where I am now. Only where I am now is a little strange because towards the back of the garden and around an open hole, two women are doing things which should have stirred me once, but with a bullet in one’s shoulder, one can’t do much.”
The monologue continues as the man, wearing a trench-coat, hauls himself into the back seat of a car which is featured from many angles. The women reveal a body which they drag into the pit, knocking away the soon to be departed’s still hand, grasping for life, as they refill the hole.
Thus begins the sado-satirical exploitation patriarchal indictment that is Singapore Sling. This film is for neither the sensitive of stomach or mind. It may as well be called Trigger Warning, to wit in an opening scene of exposition the character Daughter speaks, in english, to the audience explaining that she lives with her Mommy and was raped and then sexually trained by her father, who killed and buried their servants, and now that her father is dead she performs the those same carnal duties on Mommy who is a transsexual. She goes on to explain that she and Mommy had kidnapped, raped and disemboweled a woman named Laura, years earlier, and now use the memory of that event to fuel a routine sadistic sex act where Daughter is forced to give Mommy non-consenting oral sex followed by sodomy. That which I have summarized above is only the first twenty minutes of the film.
Singapore Sling has a lot to say about the poisonous infection of a damaged patriarchy, sexual dominance, insanity, the inversion of classical narrative arcs, sadism, delusion, psychosis and torture. It speaks to all those things through the abstractions of visual perversity that drives the film. There is no solid footing of literalism in this story, should you prove sturdy enough to watch all of it, it will require your engagement to decipher any meaning from it’s wretch inducing frames. It has no easy interpretation. It is a purposefully disturbing collage of scenes and imagery which come together to form a fascinating larger picture, less grotesque and more intriguing than the sum of it’s troubling scenes but still filled with their dead weight. You’re gonna want a drink when it’s all over.
As wave after wave of noxious imagery came at me I took solace in the contrast of the film’s visual style and genre trope with that of the content itself. The story is presented as a golden age exploitation detective thriller where a man searching for his lost lover is taken captive and held prisoner by two sex crazed lunatics, like the cover of an old pulp novel. But Singapore Sling presents the absolute least enjoyable or palatable version of that story. Instead of the presumed titillating macho fiction fantasy of being taken captive by two nymphos, the story is embalmed by a madness that is carried through the veins of the film by the heartbeat of decadent visual stylings. Despite the constant exploration of foul imagery, from multiple bewilderingly cartoonish depictions of non consensual sex, to electroshock therapy, the disemboweling of a body whilst it’s heart still beats and a dinner scene that makes the monkey brains in Temple of Doom look like preschool, I was hypnotized by the quality of the filmmaking in the composition of the shots, set decoration, editing and sound design. The female characters often break the fourth wall, addressing the audience as if they know they are there, sometimes translating key phrases into Italian, English and French. These departures from standard narrative draw you into and almost normalize the lunacy. Once immersed completely in the viscous stew of content the perversion becomes temporarily normalized in, allowing for a visually lyrical journey through the bile of madness and co-dependent destruction.
There are only three true characters in the film Mommy, Daughter and the man, who becomes known as Singapore Sling. Mommy is the dominant personality in the film but she is only able to replicate the acts of dominances as portrayed in the patriarchy, as represented by the absent father character. Mother is only as powerful as those she can control. Daughter is a submissive but headstrong waif, damaged beyond repair by first the abuse and conditioning of her father and then the systemic need to repeat this process of abuse as it’s the only thing that gives her any self value. She has a intimate addict’s connection to her lust and physical satisfaction. Daughter hates the control that Mother has over her but this subjugation is only way she knows to feel pleasure, until Singapore Sling is taken captive and she arouses him, has sex with him and then pukes on his face. Singapore Sling is an injured figure of typical lone wolf male virtues but through the film his sanity crumbles while his body fails him. He is made a sexual plaything, a drone, a receptacle, shamed and debased man leaving him with no recourse but to seek revenge and prepare for death. Although the cast of this film did not go on to have extensively successful careers it should be noted that the woman who played Daughter, Meredyth Herold, should never be forgotten for her brave, honest and completely terrifying performance.
Singapore Sling is an extensively disturbing film on purpose. It takes many things which we would normally identify with pleasure even comfort and perverts them with a coat of mud, viscera and bodily fluids. The classical quality of the filmic visual design evokes films of a simpler era, when men were men and women might be vixens or sexpots. Instead of some comforting trashy fare the film is constantly baffling in it’s repulsion, going so far as to induce nervous laughter. The notion of a sex driven fantasy mystery romp surely has a place in culture, but this film with its inky blackness perverts any desire for supple flesh, revealing us to all just be pieces of meat. The film’s score is a noir style piano set pulled from the 1944 detective film Laura, directed by Otto Preminger, which sets the expectation for the story we’re accustomed to receiving, yet the inversion of that crowd pleasing tone betrays our expectation. There is a scene in which the camera follows an erotic course across a woman’s body as she caresses herself, a scene which is charged with a tasteful level of sexuality until it’s revealed that she’s pleasuring herself with a kiwi. The obtuse strange fruit throws off the standard eroticism, especially when the furry orb is inserted into an anus, mashed to bits and spread across the woman’s body. It is this essence of utilizing an aesthetic, the classic film or the erotic thriller, but spitting in it’s face with debasing acts that provides as much of the shock as the acts themselves. The film’s constant but subtle acknowledgement at it’s own perversity, through the characters knowing looks at the camera, allows for the thinnest levity in the acts of wanton violence and sexual degradation on screen. The film insults and tortures the unsuspecting while winking at those who are literate in film with it’s knowing disrespect of tropes and stock thematics. Madness and disgusting spectacle overcome romantic typicality.
While I cannot overstate that this is NOT a film for those weak of stomach or easily disturbed, I would recommend this film to serious cinephiles, filmmakers and those who are looking for a truly bizarre experience. It’s wealth of unique visuals and cinematic qualities are ripe for the picking and this unique approach to scandalizing the audience appeals to the lustful and torturous identities of our greater demons.
Definitely NOT a date movie.