Some Ethical Stakes in Ferrara’s Cinema

From: Abel Ferrara

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A Cinema of Negation Some Ethical Stakes in Ferrara’s Cinema To represent is already a murder. —Georges Bataille (1952) American Boy, European Friends Abel Ferrara is to cinema what Joe Strummer is to music: a poet who justifies the existence of popular forms. Without them, the genre film or the pop song would be no more than objects of cultural consumption. In this material world run on injustice and terror, where “popular” is confused with “industrial,” any cultural expression that does not hurl an angry cry or wail a song of mad love (often one and the same) merely collaborates in the regulation and preservation of this world. Is Ferrara, along with Jim Jarmusch, Tsui Hark, and Kinji Fukasaku, right to (even accidentally) redeem genre cinema? Would it not be preferable for them to desert the dirty terrain of what Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer  | Abel Ferrara named the “culture industry” and, like Jonas Mekas or Stan Brakhage, invent their own territories, forms, and artistic gestures? Ferrara’s films offer an answer. How could anyone except a melancholic criminal speak to us in the name of the good (King of New York; 1990)? Who but a paranoid cop could make us believe for a second in the virtues of forgiveness (Bad Lieutenant; 1992)? Who today could bear to listen to a moral lesson if it was not acted out by a drug-addicted, leprous vampire (The Addiction; 1995)? Who could interest us, even for a moment, in the tired old questions of the family unit or the individual ? Who could continue to arouse in us a desperate faith in sacrifice and love, unless they were almost autistic, completely crazed, haunted figures within films that cultivate advanced arguments concerning the need to destroy all filmic forms? Ferrara was born on 19 July 1951 to an Italian American father (who turned from being a bookmaker to a stockbroker) and an Irish American mother. He is the youngest of six children, with five sisters. The Esposito family (renamed Ferrara by Abel’s grandfather after he emigrated to the United States) originates in Salerno, south of Naples. Ferrara studied at the Sacred Heart Catholic School in the Bronx: “You were in, like, the front row and there was this giant crucifix, about eight feet tall, dripping blood.”1 In 1966, the family moved to the Peekskill district. At Lakeland High School, Ferrara met Nicodemo Oliverio (a.k.a. Nicholas St. John) and John Paul McIntyre. He and St. John formed a rock band, bought an eight-millimeter camera, and made their first ten-minute short, “The story of a kid who liked getting drunk with his friends.”2 Ferrara returned to New York to study cinema at the State University of New York at Purchase and made a series of very short films (one or two minutes each) on Super 8 and sixteen-millimeter, devised as protests against the Vietnam War. As part of his studies he spent a year in Britain, where he participated in his first professional thirty-five-millimeter shoot for the BBC. Then he returned to New York and reunited with St. John; together they started writing and making films and playing music. Ferrara’s œuvre can be read as a critical revitalization of the codes of genre cinema. He has tackled almost every popular genre: pornography (9 Lives of a Wet Pussy; 1976), gore (The Driller Killer; 1979), the rape-revenge movie (Ms .45, a.k.a. Angel of Vengeance; 1981), the thriller and film noir (Fear City, 1984; China Girl, 1987; King of New A Cinema of Negation |  York, and Bad Lieutenant), the television cop series (two episodes of Miami Vice, 1985; The Gladiator, 1986; and Crime Story, 1986), science fiction (Body Snatchers, 1993; New Rose Hotel, 1998), fantasy-horror (The Addiction; 1995), the film-within-a-film (Dangerous Game, a.k.a. Snake Eyes, 1993; The Blackout, 1997), and historical re-creation (The Funeral, 1996; ’R Xmas, 2001.) Even music video has not escaped Ferrara’s enterprise (“California”; 1996). Ferrara has now announced, among several projects that may be shot in Italy, that he will direct a comedy titled Go-Go Tales. This critical interrogation of generic codes resembles neither a stylish reworking nor a simple exposure of cinematic clichés. It is a matter of formulating, thanks to an arsenal of basic, immediately comprehensible archetypes, certain primal, practical, and troubling questions. What are the limits of identity? What is an individual? What is a social...


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