ABEL FERRARA IN RETROSPECT

In 2008, Anthology Film Archives hosted Abel Ferrara for a screening of his third feature film, Ms. 45. During his lengthy Q&A, the iconic New York filmmaker, who’s films have maintained their rich, hard-bitten absurdity even while the independent film world has changed to a degree that his work has become almost impossible to get distributed here in the States, was busy complaining about Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant remake (“Its a real insult to Zoe… If someone steals your car, you don’t say, well gee, thanks for stealing my car. If someone fucks your girlfriend, you don’t think, well I’m glad they wanted to fuck my girlfriend… I say to Ed [Pressman, producer of both the original and the remake], ‘What I ought to be happy? Let me ask you something. How much money are they paying you? How much money are they paying Herzog?’… He can suck my dick for all I care.”). Also, he was planning to take on a version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Forest Whitaker and 50 Cent, and was still seeking a distributor for Go-Go Tales.

That film, a doozy starring Bob Hoskins, Willem Dafoe and Asia Argento (yes, she really kisses that dog), is the director’s first truly comedic endeavor. A departure from the thrillers and twisted morality tales that make up the majority of his oeuvre, it is often described by Ferrara as “Cheers with T&A.” In a way, like the man who made it, Go-Go Tales is a living monument to a seedier, authentic, bygone New York, where small time businessmen and hustlers are being forced out in droves as the Disneyfication and completely upper class takeover of Manhattan continues unabated. At the time, it only played at the 2007 Cannes and New York Film Festivals, but this weekend, over three years after its local premiere, this most New York-centric of films receives its first weeklong NYC run as part of a mini-retrospective, “Abel in the 21st Century,” that Anthology has put together of the legendary director’s recent work.

The series, which starts today (January 7th) and runs through January 18th, includes five films that Ferrara has directed and one he produced over the past decade. Mary, his star-studded coupling of the story of Mary Magdalene with arious modern spiritual intrigues, features a haunting performance by Juliette Binoche as the title character. His most recent narrative, 2009’s Napoli Napoli Napoli, which has yet to have significant screenings in the States, is an episodic docudrama based on the tales of female prisoners Ferrara and his trio of screenwriters interviewed at a Napoli prison. Ferrara, who has family roots in Napoli, has made his last three narratives (including the interiors of Go-Go Tales) in Italy, but his recent docs both explore venerable New York institutions—the notorious Chelsea Hotel in Chelsea on the Rocks, and the Italian-American strip that Mr. Ferrara calls home in lower Manhattan, Mulberry St. Rounding out the series is Michael M. Bilandic’s Happy Life, which Ferrara produced.

Ferrara will be on hand, along with many of his film’s various cast members, at this weekend’s screenings, but if you can’t make it to any of his appearances check out this video interview that HTN contributor Evan Louison did with Ferrara a few years back.

— Brandon Harris

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