Drink & Watch: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

I have to say that, even though I currently have to watch all the movies on my laptop and am still anxiously awaiting availability via Roku, I'm loving my new FilmStruck subscription so far. At my fingertips are hundreds of movies that I previously had to purchase on DVD via Criterion, plus a huge number of Turner Classic options, ready to stream at a moment's notice. I didn't waste any time sinking my teeth into the alluring John Cassavetes collection, especially since I haven't watched any of his movies since my film school days at UCSD. I think it goes without saying that an appreciation for cinéma vérité has to come with age; mainly because you have to have lived a bit before you understand the intricacies of real life. While most people know Cassavetes for his role as Mia Farrow's husband in Rosemary's Baby, the actor was a serious pioneer of American independent film as a director as well. I don't think P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights ever gets made without Cassavetes The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, a film I watched for the first time in nearly twenty years this past weekend. Not only is the movie a masterpiece of film noir, gritty crime, and impromptu improvisation, it's one hell of a drinking flick. 

Much like Cassavetes is mostly known for his major movie roles, the late and brilliant character actor Ben Gazzara is probably most recognized as Jackie Treehorn from The Big Lebowski or the devious and douche-y Brad Wesley from Swayze's action classic Roadhouse. While Gazzara shines in those supporting roles, his depth and talent as an actor are given the full spotlight in Bookie. Within the first twenty minutes of the film you'll be heading for your wet bar, likely pouring yourself a heavy Scotch on the rocks, as you watch Gazzara as club owner Cosmo Vitelli move from dive bar to dive bar, drinking Scotch and waters in the lowlit 1970's LA night life. By the time he hits the limo for an outing with his lovely dancers, you'll be thirsting for Champagne. There's an absolutely classic scene where Gazzara tries to force Dom Perignon on one of the young starlets, telling her repeatedly: "It's the best. Try it. It's the best." Much like a new Pappy convert who's never actually tried the full spectrum of Bourbon options, Vitelli clearly isn't an aficionado. He's simply an insecure and somewhat naive businessman who wants to impress a certain level of sophistication upon his equally naive and ambitious club girls. Yet, it's that very appetite—that burning desire for big shot recognition—and the careless manner in which he goes after it that ultimately gets him into trouble. From that point on, Vitelli's life takes a drastic turn into LA's even seedier underbelly.

The worse it gets, the more you want to drink. The more you drink, the worse it seems to get. Man, did I have a great time drinking whisky and Champagne on the couch with my laptop and headphones!

We might have to make this an official Alamo Drafthouse party in the future. I'm going to get LVMH on the phone and see if they'll sponsor a Glenmorangie/Dom Perignon movie event!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll