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Abel Ferrara


Friday Double Features in May

Abel Ferrara

Abel Ferrara is a filmmaker of contradictions. He is a Godard-worshipping auteur that could make a Times Square classic called Driller Killer, a wild and loose improviser whose films result in rigid formal and thematic coherence, and a man who can find humanity and tragedy in the most debauched of characters. Ferrara's filmmaking is a mixture of the lowest and the highest of impulses--he is the meeting point between the art-house and grindhouse, a philospher of the mud. He delivers the goods, but also makes films with weight, depth, and artistry. One of America's true modern masters, he has spent almost his entire thirty-year career outside of Hollywood, making masterpieces about the fringe while on the fringe.

May 8th @ 8:00 PM

Driller Killer
shown with
Ms. 45

Ferrara's first feature has risen to infamy based almost entirely on its title alone, but offers out-of-left-field stylish moments and Ferrara's developing quirky sense of humor in addition to its gritty, despairing Taxi Driver-like portrayal of gritty NYC life in the late '70s. Starving, irritated artist Reno (played by Ferrara himself) lives in a squalid tenement surrounded by drunken derelicts, one of whom happens to be his father. Plagued with nightmarish visions, Reno tenuously clings to sanity thanks to his girlfriend (Carolyn Marz), currently separated from her husband and also with a live-in lesbian lover. Reno works desperately on a huge painting of a buffalo which he hopes will earn some money, but his concentration is shattered when a punk band moves next door and plays around the clock. Reno soon snaps, and darts around the nocturnal city streets, picking off bums with his electric hand drill. Driller Killer strikes a terrific balance between atmosphere and shock, and features some of the most repulsive on-screen pizza eating ever.

Ferrara displays an amazing command of the film medium in this, only his second legit feature. Pitched as a kind of Death Wish vigilante/rape-revenge flick, Ms. 45 far exceeds the limitations of any genre--it is an endlessly transforming piece of art, evolving past any simple exploitation satisfaction model, going from potentially uncomfortable misogyny up through feminist vengeance fable, and finally ending up in a nihilistic world in which no one's fantasies are satisfied. Thana (the late, great Zoë Tamerlis), a mute garment district worker, has the ultimate bad day (one night, two rapes). After killing her second attacker in self-defense, she finds herself wandering the streets at night, looking to "defend" herself against any upright creature with a penis. It is an incredibly orchestrated mixture of tones and tropes, from black comedy to nihilist theatre, stylized central park shootouts and unforced low-key surrealism. Increasingly dreamy until its incredible Halloween party massacre climax, Ms. 45 is Ferrara's finest example of scuzzy 42nd Street fare with a poetic soul.

Driller Killer Dir. Abel Ferrara, 1979, Digibeta, 96 min.
Ms. 45 Dir. Abel Ferrara, 1981, 35mm, 80 min. Tickets - $10

May 15th @ 8:00 PM

The Funeral
shown with
Body Snatchers

Ferrara and Christopher Walken teamed up on crime turf again six years later after the surprise success of King of New York for this far more haunting tale of '30s mob corruption with a potent Big Apple spin. After the death of a mobster named Johnny, his three brothers (Walken, Chris Penn and Vincent Gallo--how's that for diversity?) and the rest of the family (including Isabella Rossellini and Benicio Del Toro) unite for the funeral and, hungering for emotional closure and release, deal with their own screwed-up psychoses until the blood starts flying. This film, from the director's most productive and fascinating period, is part character study, part violent exploitation, part cerebral study in morality and politics, and pure Ferrara.

It's rare that a film remake matches the artistic success of the original, but Ferrara impressively made a great film out of Body Snatchersunder the shadow of not one, but two fantastic preceding versions (Don Siegel's in '56 and Philip Kaufman's in '78) of this now-classic tale. In his first and only big-budget studio venture, Ferrara and his team of writers (which included horror heavies Larry Cohen and Stuart Gordon ) smartly relocated the paranoia-heavy Pod People setting to a sun-drenched military base, and placed at the film's center a rebellious teenage girl (Gabrielle Anwar) already attuned to questioning authority, one who has no problem noticing the whole town's increasingly creepy lockstep. The real stars of the film, besides Ferrara's off-kilter yet intuitive handling of the material, are the absolutely killer widescreen cinematography of Bojan Bazelli, and Meg Tilly as the evil stepmother, in a performance so originally and genuinely unnerving that you'll wish she'd revive the character in a spin-off TV show, so you could enjoy it every week.

The Funeral Dir. Abel Ferrara, 1996, 35mm, 99 min.
Body Snatchers Dir. Abel Ferrara, 1993, 35mm, 87 min.
Tickets - $10

May 22nd @ 8:00 PM

Bad Lieutenant
shown with
Dangerous Game

After a decade of cult adoration for his grimy and piercingly intelligent low budget masterpieces, Ferrara finally broke into the big time with this shattering NC-17-rated plunge into the darkest recesses of human behavior. Harvey Keitel gives one of the all-time fearless performances as the titular lieutenant, a heavily tainted NYC cop who indulges in every vice under the sun and has a very twisted way of dealing with young girls he pulls over to the side of the road. The brutal rape of a nun in his precinct, however, forces him to confront his own demons (with the nun offering her own surprising take on the idea of vengeance) on the way to the cathartic finale. Infused with Catholic symbolism, stylistic bravura, and a powerhouse soundtrack, Bad Lieutenant also contains an unforgettable junkie turn by Zoë Tamerlis, Ferrara's muse from Ms. 45, before her untimely death. Come see this essential entry in extreme cinema up on the big screen where it belongs.

Throughout his career, Ferrara has repeatedly attempted to combine high art tendencies with a level of sleaze lower to the ground than a Polynesian limbo routine--and perhaps he's never been more successful at it than with Dangerous Game, known to most as "that one with Madonna in it" but better understood as one of the most thematically complex and ultimately rewarding films in Ferrara's rollercoaster filmography. Harvey Keitel portrays the Ferrara stand-in Eddie Israel, a director who leaves his wife and child behind in New York to make a grimy Hollywood flick with aggro leading man Francis Burns (James Russo) and no-talent sexpot Sarah Jennings (Madonna). In the chaotic spirit of Ferrara's own loony productions, the abrasive film-within-the-film threatens to unravel from rampant drug use, directionless direction, manipulative sex and volcanic creative tensions--and on the meta level, the viewer is never sure whether or not what plays out in the subject matter is informing the making of Dangerous Game, or vice versa. Famously maligned by Madonna for purposefully making her out to be a "bad" actress (even though it's by far her best performance), Dangerous Game is a brutal Godard-like condemnation of Hollywood antics, and a skeezy good time.

Bad Lieutenant Dir. Abel Ferrara, 1992, 35mm, 96 min.
Dangerous Game Dir. Abel Ferrara, 1993, 35mm, 108 min.
Tickets - $10



B-movie / Grindhouse