Even though Abel Ferrara never really went away, what he's been up to these past few weeks sure feels like a comeback. He began tweeting last month, not long after the launch of his new site, featuring dozens of clips from his films, interviews and a half-hour tribute from the 2009 edition of the Miami Film Festival. And tonight, Anthology Film Archives in New York opens its own tribute, Abel Ferrara in the 21st Century, that'll run through January 18.
J Hoberman in the Voice: "The self-taught pioneer of post-porn punxploitation — The Driller Killer (1979), Ms. 45 (1981) — Ferrara positioned himself as a lumpen Scorsese with his Little Italy–set youth gang film China Girl (1987) and relatively big-budget adult gangster King of New York (1990). He came into his own in the mid-90s with the astonishing one-two punch of Bad Lieutenant (1992) and The Addiction (1995), with Madonna's best movie — Dangerous Game (1993) — appearing in between… Ferrara's oeuvre has always juggled the sacred and the profane, although things got a bit more dicey after The Funeral (1996), his last movie to get widespread US distribution. Still, he managed to survive the millennium in style: Witness Mary (2005) and Go Go Tales (2007), the latter of which, after a midnight screening four New York Film Festivals ago, is finally getting a run as part of Anthology's tribute."
"Ferrara was, at the height of his powers, the City's most ferocious, uninhibited chronicler of its underground networks and appetites," writes Michael Joshua Rowin for Artforum. "The last decade has not been so kind to him. Just as the independent film boom of the 1990s ebbed, so did the notoriously volatile and uncompromising Ferrara find himself at the margins of distribution, with only a few of his last several films receiving limited releases in this country. This is unfortunate because Ferrara's talent and intensity remain a vital rarity within the world of independent filmmaking. Excepting the DOA 'R Xmas (2001), the turn of the millennium has brought two of his best films — Mary (2005) and Go Go Tales (2007) — each revealing new facets of his hustlers and redemption-seekers."
"Mary, his star-studded coupling of the story of Mary Magdalene with various modern spiritual intrigues, features a haunting performance by Juliette Binoche as the title character," writes Brandon Harris at Hammer to Nail. "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."
"Abel Ferrara has described Go Go Tales as 'Cheers meets The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,'" notes Slant's Ed Gonzalez. "Really it's closer to a remix of Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, with a foul-mouthed Sylvia Miles in the role of Tommy Lee Jones's intimidating Axeman, Grace Jones subbing for Dusty and Lefty on the soundtrack, and the Johnson women stripped down to their panties. Enter that force of nature known as Asia Argento, who takes the stage in one scene to perform a mercilessly brief striptease during which she swaps saliva with one of two rottweilers; the other one, played by Bob Hoskins, barks orders offstage, trying to keep patrons in their seats and their paws off the girls. Welcome to the seedy demimonde of the club Paradise, where Ferrara probes the dreams of lives less ordinary, including his own."
More from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "A gorgeously tawdry nirvana set in Manhattan, Paradise Lounge is an old-school strip club run by a soulful dreamer, Ray Ruby (a wonderful Willem Dafoe), who with love and not enough money is struggling to keep his people and parts in play — a beautiful metaphor for the filmmaking hard times faced by the likes of Abel Ferrara… A lovely drift of a movie, Go Go Tales commands your attention even as it lulls you along." Supplementary listening (6'52"). Back in 2007, Aaron Hillis and Andrew Grant spoke with Manohla Dargis about Go Go Tales following a NYFF screening.
Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf is less impressed: "Spun during its brief Cannes moment as a comedy, an allegory and a tour de force, Abel Ferrara's distributorless strip-club snooze turns out to be none of these — but, rather, a typically lax late-period Ferrara work, far from the glories of King of New York." And as for the docs, for Lauren Wissot, writing at the House Next Door, "compared to a rebel director like Werner Herzog, who weds his similar restlessness to an amazingly diverse appetite, Ferrara seems just an addict-jumpy auteur with a frustratingly immature and narrow vision; sex and violence, drugs, and the arts are pretty much all he's interested in. Which is why after about 15 minutes into Napoli Napoli Napoli, you find yourself wondering why he doesn't just stick to fiction instead."