Abel Ferrara is one of the important American auteurs of 1980s and 1990s. With films like BAD LIEUTENANT, KING OF NEW YORK, THE FUNERAL, or THE ADDICTION he established himself as a unique voice of independent cinema. He has repeatedly worked with Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Asia Argento, Willem Dafoe, and Madonna and is now active in his new home at Rome, where he has shot PASOLINI and the new film TOMMASO with Willem Dafoe. DEKRA | Hochschule für Medien vice president and film professor Marcus Stiglegger, co-author of the German book on Abel Ferrara (2000), had the honour to present the Hollywood Reporter award to Abel Ferrara. His laudation speech is documented here:
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Mr. Ferrara,
I have the honour to say some hopefully useful things about one of the most prolific American film director after the New Hollywood era of the 1970s. And even better: It is on the occasion of the Hollywood Reporter award ceremony for his beautiful and touching new film TOMMASO.
I was invited for being the co-editor and author of the only German book on Abel Ferrara – which had been published in 2000. I was asked to prepare a speech of five minutes covering Ferrara’s main achievements for film art and his new film. This is obviously impossible – but: I will try it anyway.
Abel Ferrara started his career as a film maker in the context of genre cinema, infused by the raw energy of New York’s underground culture around 1980. His first films THE DRILLER KILLER and MS45 are cult films today and already focus on aspects which are important even for his new film TOMMASO:
- he stays very close to his protagonists, even using a highly dynamic hand held camera style
- Ferrara is interested in the twisted life of artists and the creative process, as he has shown in DRILLER KILLER, DANGEROUS GAME, BLACKOUT, MARY – THIS IS MY BLOOD, PASOLINI and TOMMASO
- similar to his often referred to favourite directors Fassbinder, Werner Herzog or Pasolini, Ferrara has been true to certain collaborators, his own ensemble in a way. In TOMMASO for example we hear the music by Joe Delia, who has already scored his debut feature THE DRILLER KILLER
- Ferrara has also often worked together with those closest to him, a tendency which was continued in TOMMASO where his wife and daughter play important roles, while Willem Dafoe appears for a 5th time in a Ferrara film after NEW ROSE HOTEL, 4:44 – LAST DAY ON EARTH, GO GO TALES and PASOLINI. Other actors connected to him are Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra
Ferrara’s films from the beginning moved smoothly between scenes of harsh urban realism and beautifully stylized moments of contemplation and transcendence. Even his most violent subjects were thus juxtaposed by very tender details, sometime gestures or just a gaze in the sky that brings the inferno to an instant stop.
In the 1980s Abel Ferrara cultivated this style within genre contexts, made gangster films and even shot episodes for TV series like MIAMI VICE and CRIME STORY. The epic turning point came in 1990 when he made KING OF NEW YORK with Christopher Walken. He finally prove that he was an actor’s director, subsequently working with Walken and Harvey Keitel in iconic roles. BAD LIEUTENANT in 1992 reached a new level of complexity and radicalism. The story telling became more and more fragmented, while the power of the instant created huge intensity, especially in scenes of violence and addiction.
Still working with genre tropes Ferrara became more and more interested in philosophical questions of life, death and spirituality – all perfectly condensed in the existentialist vampire noir THE ADDICTION in 1995.
Now as then he is interested in profoundly human dialectics of creation and destruction, life and death, sexuality and violence, but his approach moved closer to the everyday world. More and more the artist him or herself is in his focus.
In his film TOMMASO Willem Dafoe plays a troubled and aging film maker, a former alcoholic, who now wants to build a bourgeois existence with his much younger Russian wife and their 4 year old daughter (both played by the director’s real life family). The manic search for self-affirmation in sexual encounters and his manic jealousy are the chaotic drive of TOMMASO that ultimately leads to a catastrophic climax – not unlike Defoe’s interpretation of PASOLINI some years ago. But Ferrara is not really interested in creating dramaturgical tension, but to create a complex web of scenes, moments, imaginations and gazes, that give us – the audience – the chance to live with these desperate and lost characters, to share their life for two hours.
TOMMASO is full of heartbreaking intimacy, of confessions and desperate emotional outbursts – but on the other hand it leaves us full of lively and humane moments and impressions. With TOMMASO, Abel Ferrara is in the complex heights of his artistic skills as a director – an auteur in the classical sense of this concept: a film maker, who radically shares his vision du monde with use, who literally presents his ripped out heart to us. TOMMASO actually is a sacrifice and a revelation, but presented with deeply moving modesty.
Mr. Ferrara, please enter the stage to receive the Hollywood Reporter award at the Cologne film festival for TOMMASO!