A day in the life of a New York City dive bar and the denizens that inhabit it. Set in the waning days of the Eighties, an era marked by excess and self-invention, this is Michael De Avila’s Burnzy’s Last Call: Director’s Cut.
Here is an interesting 90’s time capsule for you; Michael De Avila, the director of this film, made the original Burnzy’s Last Call during the height of the independent Hollywood film boom in 1994. An 85-minute feature film, it garnered lukewarm reviews on release, but did manage to win the Best Dramatic Feature Award at the Atlantic City Film Festival. Like a lot of independent cinema in the ’90s, films such as Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, and Swingers, Burnzy’s Last Call is filmed in as fewer locations as possible. This particular film has its lone setting as a Manhattan bar in New York, in which we meet a number of different characters who drift in and out of this well-stocked drinking den. They share numerous stories about their lives, their loves, and their losses, including a bike with Sal – our friendly neighborhood bartender (played by James McCaffrey). Each person is different and each one tends to have their own personal shtick. The surprising thing about De Avila’s directors cut is that he doesn’t add any scenes or shots to increase the film’s running time; his 2022 version has seen him slice, dice, and send his movie through a film editing mince machine. Burnzy’s Last Call: Directors Cut has come out 40 minutes shorter and is now a tightly scripted 48-minute feel-good comedy short.
The first thing you notice about Burnzy’s Last Call is the star-studded cast, it is a who’s who of 90’s TV superstars just before they became famous. Chris Noth would become Sex and The City’s Mr. Big, Sherry Stringfield would spend fifteen years as ER’s Susan Lewis, Michael Rispoli would become a familiar face in The Sopranos, Tony Todd (who here plays a trans character) was already a horror icon with Candyman, while even McCaffrey himself would go on to work in Suits with Meghan Markle and Blue Bloods with Tom Selleck.
George Gilmore wrote the script and if he wanted to create his own Alcoholics for Dummies-type textbook, with descriptions of their appearances, language, behaviors, and habits, then there would be a chapter on each of the customers we meet during this mid-90s time capsule. I’m no expert on this environment, but the film seems to be a pretty accurate portrait of a downtown working-class drinking establishment; the characters are eccentrics, and each has their own heightened sense of reality, but they all fit in this familiar and friendly atmosphere. The cinematography remains close with close-ups and mid-shots, and the lighting remains warm, giving us a sense that all of these people, if not happy in life, are happy and relaxed at Burnzy’s. De Avila’s direction doesn’t paint a too depressing picture of these barflies, just a familiar one. They all have the same hopes, dreams, and ambitions as the rest of us and like everyone, some are still chasing them, while others have simply given up.
There is a sweet addendum to the film which gives us a much more optimistic ending to Burnzy’s Last Call than I imagine it had over 25 years ago. With the familiarity of the faces we see, and knowing what some of the actors went on to achieve after this, the line between fact and fiction becomes blurred somewhat. What this distortion does is give us a lovely feeling that the characters we have warmed to here, their lives don’t just stop at Burnzy’s bar, they go on living outside of this and managing to accomplish even greater things. A thought that leaves you smiling as the credits roll.