Thursday, January 28, 2010

Favorites of My Favorites #8 -- Abel Ferrara

“…they (the audience) like the pictures to be cheaply done, they enjoy the crudeness; it’s a breather, a vacation from proper behavior and good taste and required responses.”  - Pauline Kael, Trash, Art, and the Movies

Abel Ferrara, at times, demonstrates as much artistic grace and skill as anyone, but he never completely lets you forget where he started.  First it was porn and then the slasher film; Ferrara understands that a large part of the audience go to movies for sex, violence, profanity, and whatever else they might not be getting from their daily lives. 

And sure the cinema has always given us plenty of this.  But, in Ferrara’s work, it’s different.  There’s no gloss, it’s not “movie-ish”, you feel like it’s more real, like you’re seeing these things for the first time.  In Ferrara’s work, these things are also more than mere diversions.  They’re harsh, heavy, and often times so visceral they force you to engage with them.   His films are not escapist fantasies, their essays on something dark, deep, and troubling.

His work with rapper Schoolly D is one of my favorite Director/Musician collaborations.  I also love the naturalism of his work.  After Scorsese and some of the other guys decided to abandon the visual grit of their earlier work (think Mean Streets and Taxi Driver), along comes Ferrara to keep the tradition alive.  Almost all of Ferrara’s work is palpably rooted in a specific time and place. 

He’s not for everyone.  And he’s not even always for me.  But, when he’s on, he’s one of my very favorites.

*Pauline Kael probably influenced me more than any other film critic.  She passed away in 2001, and I miss her dearly.  I thought she was a fantastic writer with wonderful taste.  But, more important, I thought she was a mentor and guide for filmmakers.  She took a real interest in their careers and would try to help them understand when they did something well and when they went off course.  De Palma was one of her favorites, and I hate that I’ll never have the opportunity to read her thoughts on Femme Fatale (I have the feeling that she would have really loved it.)  I also would have really liked to hear her talk about Lynch, Ferrara, Tarantino, Jarmusch, Bujalski, David Gordon Green, and other filmmakers who have emerged, for the most part, since she stopped writing in 1991.  

ABEL FERRARA (in preferential order):
1.  King of New York
2.  The Funeral
3.  Bad Lieutenant
4.  Crime Story (pilot)
5.  Go Go Tales watched 2/5/10
6.  Dangerous Game
7.  Chelsea on the Rocks watched 3/24/11
8.  ‘R Xmas
9.  The Driller Killer
10.  New Rose Hotel
11.  Ms. 45
12.  Body Snatchers watched 4/30/10
13.  The Blackout watched 4/25/10
14.  China Girl
15.  The Addiction
16.  Fear City
17.  Cat Chaser (90-minute version)
18.  The Hold Up watched 10/15/11
19.  Nicky's Film watched 10/15/11
20.  Mary
21.  Subway Stories (segment “Love on the A Train”)
22. Could This Be Love watched 10/16/11

Never seen:
Napoli, Napoli, Napoli
Chelsea on the Rocks
Go Go Tales
The Blackout
Body Snatchers
California (short)
Not Guilty:  For Keith Richards (documentary short)
9 Lives of a Wet Pussy
Could This Be Love (short)
The Hold Up (short)
Nicky's Film (short)


  1. My main man! Wonderful appreciation for the King Jeffrey! It's hard to construct a list as I love his stuff so much but here's my fifteen favorites of the features:

    1. MS 45
    2. Bad Lt.
    3. The Addiction
    4. New Rose Hotel
    5. King of NY
    6. Go Go Tales (You gotta see this Jeffrey)
    7. Dangerous Game
    8. The Funeral
    9. Blackout
    10. Mary
    11. Drlller Killer
    12. Fear City
    13. 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy
    14. China Girl
    15. Cat Chaser

  2. I really need to see The Funeral's been about 10 years since I saw it last. I remember really liking Chris Penn's performance in that. Good list. I haven't seen New Rose Hotel and based on Jeremy's list it looks like I should rectify that problem.

    Keep doing these favorites lists...they're fun.

  3. Jeremy, yeah I thought I remember reading that he was one of your faves. I'm dying to see GO GO TALES. Will have to rectify that very soon. And both BODY SNATCHERS and THE BLACKOUT are held up on my Netflix queue. But as soon as they arrive, I'll watch them and add them into the list (in red).

    I probably will have to re-visit MS 45. I remember that (SPOILER slightly) "early scene" being one of the most memorable I've ever seen. But I can't remember much more than that.

    Thanks so much for your list! It's really great to see how you position everything.

  4. Kevin, thanks so much for the support on these lists! I'm really enjoying them too, and it's forcing me to fill in some gaps, which has been great.

    Yeah, I love Chris Penn in THE FUNERAL. I also really like the performances of Walken, Gallo, Rossellini, and Sciorra.

    I'd be interested to hear about your experience with NEW ROSE HOTEL. It's one of his more challenging watches, I found, but rewarding, too.

  5. NEW ROSE HOTEL is one of those films that absolutely demands at least two viewings. I think it's a remarkable film though and I woudl love to track down a copy of the film Asia Argento made about Abel a bit after the filming of it.

  6. Nice write-up on Ferrera! I love many of his films and I remember reading a profile on him when BAD LT. came out calling him a "B-movie Scorsese," which is apt in some ways. My fave films of his in order of preference:

    1. King of New York
    2. The Addiction
    3. Crime Story (pilot ep.)
    4. Bad Lieutenant
    5. The Funeral
    6. 'R Xmas
    7. The Driller Killer
    8. Subway Stories (segment “Love on the A Train”)
    9. Dangerous Game
    10. The Blackout

    Ferrera is certainly one of a kind and his commentary tracks are a MUST listen. The one he does for a KING OF NY is a hoot!

  7. JD, thanks so much for the comments! It's great to see YOUR list. I'm still waiting on THE BLACKOUT, which I hope to catch very soon.

    I've listened to that KING OF NY commentary. I love all those special features on that DVD. Are there any of Ferrara's other commentaries that you especially liked? I think that's the only one I've listened to.

    I agree that in some sense (and particularly with some films), you could call Ferrara a "B-movie Scorsese". But I definitely think his style and even his material at times (even when his budget might not) put him on the same level as Scorsese and the other "A-listers." What do you think?

  8. Yes, seek out Go Go Tales. It's fantastic.

  9. Thanks, Joe. I can't wait. I've got someone helping me get my hands on it now.

  10. Yeah, it's out on DVD in Italy, and as it's in English, there's no worry of subtitles. I'd be curious to hear what you think when you get a chance to see it.

  11. Hey, Joe, I'll send you a comment as soon as I've had a chance to take a look. I can't wait.

  12. Jeffrey Goodman:

    I don't know if I'd call Ferrera an A-lister. He still likes to keep one foot in his exploitation roots. And when he does try to go mainstream as he did with BODY SNATCHERS, he fails miserably. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I like Ferrera's film just as they are -- grungy, gritty looks at people who live on the fringes of society, people who live by their own code, their own rules, etc.

    Sadly, I haven't listened to any other commentary tracks of his. I heard he does one of BAD LT. which I would LOVE to listen to.

  13. JD, I think that's very well put, and I couldn't agree more. I guess I just want to defend him. Some people will use "B-lister" as a disparaging tag. And I just feel that Ferrara, at times, is as great and as talented as any of the widely accepted "A-listers".

    I'll definitely have to check out that commentary for BAD LIEUTENANT. Ferrara's a real trip and always a treat to listen to.

  14. Abel's commentary for DRILLER KILLER is one of the funniest, and at times most disturbing, commentaries I have ever heard. It's incredibly infomative, entertaining and completely off the wall.

  15. Jeremy, I'll have to seek that one out for sure! Thanks so much for the heads-up.

  16. Jeremy Richey:

    Wow! I'll have to check that one out. I love how on the KING OF NY commentary he kicks things by admitting that the only reason he's doing the track is because he got paid! What a funny guy...