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SEVENTH CIRCLE OF HELL : A FERRARA LIST

by tiago
SEVENTH CIRCLE OF HELL : A FERRARA LIST by tiago
This list is a collage of images and a bunch of texts that you might find useful if you are a Ferrara die hard like myself or if you are interested/curious about his films. You can explore more and read the full texts by clicking the links. If you have more interesting texts on Ferrara and would like to share, please do ! This list is in constant construction. “The cinema of Abel Ferrara is in the tradition of John Cassavetes and Maurice Pialat: he seeks the truth of the moment, the nub of a contradiction, the telling flashpoint of tension. In interviews or documentaries, that is all he will talk about: ‘getting the shot’, nailing something… Read more

This list is a collage of images and a bunch of texts that you might find useful if you are a Ferrara die hard like myself or if you are interested/curious about his films. You can explore more and read the full texts by clicking the links. If you have more interesting texts on Ferrara and would like to share, please do ! This list is in constant construction.

The cinema of Abel Ferrara is in the tradition of John Cassavetes and Maurice Pialat: he seeks the truth of the moment, the nub of a contradiction, the telling flashpoint of tension. In interviews or documentaries, that is all he will talk about: ‘getting the shot’, nailing something in an image, a performance, an exchange, a riff. His cinema is a postmodern gestalt, a fusion in dissonance: bodies, environments, songs, colours and edits are so powerfully compacted in his work that we can hardly separate the elements, as we can with the work of ‘cleaner’ directors. (…) But what, exactly, is the sin in Ferrara’s cinema – and where, exactly, is its origin? Is it just a personal matter of temptation, binging, deception, moral evasion – most of these men leading double lives as precarious and agonised as the archetypal ‘bad lieutenant’? Ferrara’s films offer a form of Brechtian melodrama beyond Douglas Sirk or even Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Every problem in his films is a social problem, a problem endemic to the formation and maintenance of a human community. Violence, exploitation, dissimulation: these are issues of the State, of corporatisation, technology, politics – inescapably. Ferrara gives us such Big Picture problems in a heightened form, in stories frequently embracing the allegorical modes of science fiction, fantasy or horror: our world is populated with vampires, with vicious phantasms, with invading, marauding body snatchers. No wonder that an essay by the French critic Nicole Brenez (author of the best book on the filmmaker) is called “*Abel Ferrara Versus The Twentieth Century*”: for her as for Ferrara, the task is precisely to know, and to portray, what evil is in the modern world, and how it infects, inhabits, possesses us.

— Adrian Martin, Neurosis Hotel

The shadows that stalk before turn people into figures, pieces of themselves, vampires. One person in blind flight for life, another in blind pursuit for erotic glory. They streak through pools of black nothingness or drenching illumination, alternately gaining and losing, with no other purpose. Light and dark do not indicate good and evil (and comic relief is ghoulish); for Ferrara is not Manichaean, he’s in hell’s seventh circle. So light embarrasses and shadow hides. Everyone bristles with sperm and scent. But lust is so rarely fulfilled, even among those “protected by the armor…of illusion, drunkenness or fanaticism” ([Simone] Weil), that desire normally is pain, torture and madness. Most Ferrara heroes get posed masturbating and, in contrast to the haloed saintliness of Melanie Griffith’s pleasuring, or the impassioned ruttings of China girl’s lovers, they masturbate sadistically or masochistically – re-enacting on this field too the victories and defeats on the plains of Troy.

—Tag Gallagher, “Geometry of Force: Abel Ferrara and Simone Weil”

_
01. New Rose Hotel

Abel Ferrara about New Rose Hotel :

" In the latter half of the ‘90s, a proliferation of different image formats or textures continues and deepens this exploration: TV, video, surveillance tapes, split-screens, digital treatments … leading to an ambiguous cloud-cluster of image-types in collision in the montage. Watching The Blackout and New Rose Hotel, we can no longer tell whether we are seeing flashbacks, mental constructions, objective narration, or alternative, speculative worlds spinning off from the nominal fiction. And every time the ‘status’ of an image becomes ambiguous in this way we are back with questions of power and politics, of the ‘hidden hand’ behind image-circuits and image-systems.

(…) Mulvey and Ferrara share a passion for the key film in this tradition, Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), of which New Rose Hotel is a particularly inspired and tortured remake. Once again, an operator in the criminal world (Willem Dafoe’s Fox) pushes his lover (Asia Argento’s Sandii) into an affair with a powerful man (Yoshitaka Amaro’s Hiroshi). Once again, a sinister, older figure (Christopher Walken’s ‘X’) pulls the strings. And once again our unlovely hero is wracked with projections arising from guilt and paranoia. But Sandii is a more provocative heroine than Ingrid Bergman, and her mysterious fate plunges New Rose Hotel into a vortex of poetic disintegration. This is a film that, midway, seems to break down and restart, splutteringly; what was previously merely enigmatic rapidly becomes cosmically inscrutable. Rarely has the auto-destruction of the cinematic apparatus been so thrilling as in New Rose Hotel. Alongside The Blackout, it is Ferrara’s most openly experimental work. "

— Adrian Martin, Neurosis Hotel

Vídeo, câmera de vigilância, pagers, celulares, fluxos invisíveis de dinheiro, conspirações e contra-conspirações, encurtamento de distâncias geográficas, África, América do Norte, Europa, Ásia. Abel Ferrara acena para um mundo maquinizado, corporativo, para dentro dele melhor entender o humano, a diferença que é estar vivo, em qualquer circunstância, em qualquer panorama. Um trio de personagens, três jogadores, estabelecem entre si um jogo de sedução (sedução pelo poder, pelo sexo, pela sensação de estar na crista da onda) e encetam a intriga de um thriller futurista que quase imperceptivelmente se transforma num filme experimental, em que o peso de cada imagem assume a dimensão de um parágrafo proustiano, em que cada lembrança amalgama uma série de construções e desejos, ao ponto que nós espectadores ficamos sem saber se X, o personagem-enigma de Willem Dafoe, busca em sua mente os signos que revelam o momento em que ele poderia ter descoberto o nascimento de sua penúria, ou se simplesmente ele busca através delas um último conforto antes de ser encontrado por seus perseguidores. É o momento da cinematografia de Ferrara em que toda desorientação moral ou espaço-temporal da trama se transforma em desorientação estrutural, ontológica, que faz nascer algo inefável, e que não sentíamos desde O Espelho, de Tarkovski. Puras imagens-afeto.

— Ruy Gardnier, Abel Ferrara : Filmografia Comentada

02. Bad Lieutenant

“(…) So the Lieutenant’s debased behaviour is repeatedly situated within the locus of religious imagery. It is as if his offending is not so much in criminal law terms, as in a religious sense: he is offending God. Simon J. Taylor argues in the Journal of Religion and Film that this relentless imagery of the sacred is intended “to suggest an identification between Lt [the Lieutenant] and Christ,” but on the contrary, it is employed to underline the Lieutenant’s wilful determination not to allow religious faith into his life. He declares to his colleagues, “The church is a racket.” The streets, so evocatively conjured by Ferrara and Kelsch, are where the Lieutenant feels safest, because he thinks he possesses the arcane knowledge necessary to thrive in that milieu, even as his life spirals out of control. (…) If Bad Lieutenant’s narrative strength lies in its metaphors and imagery, the emotional power of the Lieutenant’s self-abused road to Calvary can be found in the film’s lyricism.

(…) The term ‘lyricism’ is most often employed in the discussion of poetry. Lyric poems are characterized by economical, spare narratives –Japanese haiku being the most extreme example– and are usually of an ephemeral nature, appealing to the emotions rather than the intellect. This is reflected in Bad Lieutenant’s sparse, elliptical narrative, and in it’s unrestrained appeal to the audience’s emotions. Perhaps the most emotive device in lyric poetry is the refrain. Refrain consists of repetition within the structure of the text –of a line, rhyme, verse or sound, in order to stimulate emotion in the reader. It is this poetical refrain that is so skilfully wrought in Bad Lieutenant. Most superficially, it is featured in the film’s repetitive narrative."

— Jason Mark Scott, Beautiful and Oppressive – Lyricism and Catholic Angst in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant

B/D: How can you reconcile this position – you’ve said that you led the life of a militant anarchist – with the profoundly religious concerns of Bad Lieutenant?

ZL: I don’t think there’s a contradiction. Edouard [de Laurot] used to say that, by presenting a character who is engaged in a battle which is both personal and social, a challenge which is both existential and social is posed to the viewer. For me, the story of Jesus Christ is the perfect distillation of the revolutionary myth. It’s truly the story of a revolutionary. If one turns it into a modern narrative, this character might be the protagonist of Bad Lieutenant, who is essentially a revolutionary in the sense that he gambles absolutely blindly, gratuitously, absurdly, just as in a revolution.

B/D: Would you say that revolution is bound to fail?

ZL: That’s not a practical question. The question is, are you working for the revolution or not? We have to do it, that’s all. Even if Christ himself didn’t ‘succeed’. He’s dead, the Jews are always oppressed by the Romans. And He must have known nothing would change that. But He did what He had to do.

B/D: That’s an accomplishment.

ZL: Yeah, exactly, but what he did wasn’t a ‘success’. When Christ asked, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?”, it’s the equivalent of the moment when LT is at the bus station at the end of the film; the bus pulls out with his money and the two rapists. Harvey (Keitel) grimaces and screams. That’s when he realizes, “Oh shit, I’ve really done it now! My God, now there’s no going back. Oh shit!” Then he walks out to his car, drives downtown for the meeting with his bookie, and bang! He’s dead. And there’s a sign over him which reads ‘It All Happens Here’.

— Zoë Lund, screenwriter of Bad Lieutenant and actress, interviewed by Nicole Brenez and Agathe Dreyfus

03. The Addiction

Metanoia is Greek word meaning a change of mind (noia) and, more specifically, a religious conversion through the enlightenment of death and rebirth. The greatest obstacle to such change of mind is the knowledge we think we already know. As Simone Weil says, our thoughts block God’s grace, which can enter only where there is a void. And Kathleen Conklin in The Addiction makes a similar point when she remarks “We drink to escape the fact we’re alcoholics” without realising (yet) that her philosophy is her alcoholism. What she thinks she knows, argued in her doctoral dissertation and based on her life as a vampire, is that we cannot turn toward the light because we have no free will. We are vampires. Massacres like My Lai happen repeatedly, because we cannot tell evil to go away, cannot control our deeds. “You’re nothing….you’re not a person. You’re nothing.” We are what we do, she insists, slaves of force. Such is the universal condition of humankind.

—Tag Gallagher, “Geometry of Force: Abel Ferrara and Simone Weil”

“As próprias imagens parecem verdadeiras sugadoras de luz, que exaurem a energia do mundo para tornar visível sua face escondida. Depois tudo volta a ser escuro. Para sair da sombra e ser visto, o corpo precisa também vampirizar a luz, eclipsá-la como faz o personagem de Christopher Walken em sua primeira aparição, quando anda pela rua e é abordado por Kathleen (Lily Taylor). “Você quer ir a um lugar escuro?”, ele pergunta e a arrasta para fora de quadro. No momento em que eles saem de quadro, uma luz estourada vaza para dentro da imagem pelo lado esquerdo, antes ocupado justamente pelo personagem de Walken, como se ele a estivesse represando e somente agora essa luz pudesse atingir o plano (…) O preto-e-branco reitera uma atmosfera sufocante, auxiliada por potências obscuras, mensageiras de um mal eterno."

— Luiz Carlos Oliveira Jr, Abel Ferrara : Filmografia Comentada

" Encoutering an image, and encoutering a Vampire named Casanova (Annabella Sciorra): it is the same scene, first as documentary and then as allegory, and this convertion will reproduce itself with each new discovery of a documentary image (…) How not to die from all this pain, anguish, and guilt? Kathy incarnates and overexposes the torment that western civilization strives daily to repress."

— Nicole Brenez, Abel Ferrara

04. 4:44 Last Day on Earth

“It’s a genre, you know, it’s part of sci-fi sub-genre , the world is gonna end (…) our film is about people in situations, they are not about the situation, it’s about the people, you know what I mean ?”

— Abel Ferrara

“The most moving images in 4:44 involve people going about their daily activities in the face of imminent annihilation, with Cisco’s partner Skye (Shanyn Leigh) continuing to work on a painting during the final minutes of life on earth. The emphasis is on art as an activity that is continuous with more ‘mundane’ activities but divorced from judgements as to its ultimate value. Whether he is dealing with life or creativity, Ferrara focuses on the doing rather than the done, the process rather than the result – an approach unlikely to prove popular at a time when our arbiters of cultural taste all too often privilege films that shut down experience rather than open it up.”

—Brad Stevens, Playing it cool

_"The iconodulia that pervades 4:44 reminds us, above all,that Ferrara did not have to wait for the 2012 market to deal with ecological crises. In 1993, updating the figurative schema invented by Jack Finney in the 1950s, his Body Snatchers deployed the analysis that An Inconvenient Truth avoids: the collusion between capitalism, militarism and pollution. And in 1998, New Rose Hotel had already fabulated the destruction of humanity from genetic manipulations performed by international consortia. (An earlier draft of Zoë Lund’s screenplay planned to make the hero disappear in an ultimate white flash, to the sound of “I can’t hate you, baby.”)

— Nicole Brenez, The end of the world as a protocol:: 4:44 Last Day on Earth

“Qual filme de Abel Ferrara já não carregava em si algo de plenamente apocalíptico? Seja na fragmentação imagética da fé em Mary, no cabaré que definha em Go Go Tales, no cerco que fecha incessantemente em Body Snatchers, ou no paraíso decaído de Bad Lieutenant, Abel Ferrara vem, há anos, filmando novas versões de um mundo em decadência, se desintegrando a cada fotograma. 4:44 talvez seja apenas o seu filme mais literal sobre um tema que o movimenta desde o princípio de sua carreira, colocando-nos frente a frente com o fim. Mas, no cinema de Ferrara, a consciência do fim sempre foi uma questão de princípio. (…) no filme de Ferrara não parece haver espaço para nada além do caos. 4:44 acontece todo no limite entre a aceitação e o desespero: o mundo vai acabar, não há nada que se possa fazer para evitá-lo, mas essa resignação forçada não virá sem traumas. É nesse sentido que o filme se aproxima, por vias bastante curiosas, de Tree of Life, de Terence Malick. Pois diante do abismo, Ferrara parece dividir com Malick a intenção de retomar os temas realmente grandes e nobres da humanidade, mesmo que tão fora de moda: de onde viemos? Para onde vamos? Por que estamos aqui? Qual o sentido da vida? Qual o sentido da arte? Mas enquanto o filme de Malick vai trabalhar a partir da chave heideggereana da “origem” – que é em si misteriosa – o filme de Ferrara parte da concretude inevitável do fim. Olha-se para frente ou para trás; em ambos os fins, há apenas a certeza de um intransponível mistério.

Enquanto Malick afirma a impenetrabilidade inevitável do milagre de origem, as personagens de 4:44 se dividem entre a vontade de ver e a de não ver, partidos entre a autonomia de esperar o fim do mundo com os olhos bem abertos e sóbrios (sempre uma questão no cinema de Ferrara), ou a de dar um fim à própria vida antes que o mundo o faça por você. Diante da fragmentação completa de crenças e convicções – na imagem, na palavra, na existência, na permanência – que anuncia o fim do mundo, o que sobra é uma tentativa infrutífera de, uma vez que é impossível organizar o caos, se definir a partir da soma desorganizada de seus fragmentos. Cisco (Willem Dafoe) mata tempo com a polifonia religiosa e a tentativa de armazenar o que lhe resta do mundo, mesmo sabendo que não há legado a se deixar. Ainda assim, Tina (Natasha Lyonne), protagonista e dupla musa (de Dafoe e de Ferrara), aguardará o fim do mundo colocando tinta e mais tinta sobre uma tela estendida ao chão. Por que pintar um último quadro se ele desaparecerá com a humanidade no dia seguinte? (…) Mas essa imagem – sintetizada no filme pelo Ouroboros, o animal mitológico que se devora pelo próprio rabo – não aponta para lugar algum que não a impenetrabilidade indiferente do começo e do fim. Nessa dúvida, a trajetória do personagem se irmana à dos espectadores desse mundo-filme, pois, como ele, não teremos muito o que fazer a não ser nos deleitarmos com a brutalidade das experiências, buscando algo de significativo entre as duas pontas."

— Fábio Andrade, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, de Abel Ferrara

09. Go Go Tales

" Modern society, which already in its infancy had pulled Pluto by the hair of his head from the bowels of the earth (Athenaeus), greets gold as its Holy Grail, as the glittering incarnation of its innermost principle of life.
- Karl Marx, Capital, Book I, Chapter 3 (1867)

(…) Go Go Tales conjures a cosmic claustrophilia. Most of the film unfolds in Ray Ruby’s Paradise club, and the only other site (the illegal betting joint) – whose sliding door opens twice – is on the same block. The threat here is property, the transformation of the club into a cosmetics boutique – which is a kind of summary of Manhattan’s transformation, under Rudolph Giuliani, into a commercial centre. In Ruby’s small business, everbody – boss, workers, dancers, family, customers – thinks only of money, talks only of money, exists only because of money. But while that money floods in, in the form of authentic and counterfeit bills, extravagant bundles of lottery tickets that paper every wall, and pieces of furntiture that function as a kind of invisible anti-matter which fill apparently empty material, then all goes well – it’s Paradise.

(…) Prostitution has become the norm, human beings no longer exist, and what constitutes an event is no longer the singular entry of bodies and faces under red and white lights as on the Crazy Horse West stage, but the appearance of cash bills and lottery tickets, and the way in which these objects insinuate themslves into or onto costumes, walls, shirts, minds. The superb slow-motion shots do not insist on the grace of the dancers but the bills that the spectators slip onto their bodies. "

— Nicole Brenez, Shops of Horror : Notes for a Visual History of the Reification of Emotion in a Capitalist Regime,
or (to put it more bluntly) ‘Fuck the Money’

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