Abel Ferrara Interview
by Vittorio Carli
Abel Ferrara is a celebrated rebel director who is known for his ultra violent and arty films, which sometimes contain Catholic imagery. As anyone who has seen "The Bad Lieutenant” can profess, he shares Flannery O’Connor’s obsession with combining the spiritual and the grotesque. He has worked with everyone from Harvey Keitel to Ice-T to Madonna to Chistopher Walken. His auspicious debut was the low budget slasher film, “Driller Killer.’
His work is wonderfully varied. He made the modernized version of “Romeo and Juliet” called “China Girl,” a philosophic vampire film, “ The Addiction, ” an early Melanie Griffith vehicle, “ Fear City,” the gangster epic, “The King of New York,” “Dangerous Game “ with Madonna, and the feminist cult classic, “Ms. 45.” His finest film is the depraved masterpiece, “The Bad Lieutenant.” in which a coke addicted cop begins seeing visions of Christ. When Martin Scorsese was on Roger Ebert show’s (it was in between Siskel and Roeper incarnations.), he picked this film as one of the best of the 90s.
His first rate TV work includes “Crime Story” and episodes of the “Miami Vice.’ Lately he has had troubles getting good distribution and financing for his films. Like many innovative artists, he has been punished for not following the status quo and making empty headed feel-good films.
I recently interviewed Ferrrara at the David Leonardis Gallery in Wicker Park, Chicago. It was unlike any interview I ever did. Ferarra looked disheveled, his hair was uncombed, and he looked like he just woke up from a fifty hour nap. He asked me for a cash advance on the interview, and I explained that I didn’t even know if I would get paid. He did allow me to snap a picture of him and he let me ask some questions. The interview was bit difficult because he kept interrupting his responses to call people up, and all of his answers were short or evasive. His raspy guttural voice reminded me of Brando, and he had a kind of primitive energy. At times, I felt like I was talking to Stanley Kowalski from “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
Carli-Can you tell me anything about your background and your family life?
Ferrara-I was born in the Bronx, and I grew up in Peekskill, New York. I’m basically from a blue-collar backround. Nothing special
Carli-How did you first get interested in film?
Ferrara- I don’t know. If you’re American, how can you miss it you know? It’s the national pastime.
Carli-Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
Ferrara-Pretty much. That was always my deal.
Carli-What are some of your favorite artists or filmmakers and who influenced your work?
Ferrara-I would say the Stones and Dylan and also Italian painters such as Da Vinci. Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen and all of the great New York film makers.
Carli-Was religion a big influence on your work?
Ferrara--Well I was brought up Roman Catholic and I’m sure it did.
Carli-Did you read much criticism before u became a filmmaker? Does it ever influence your work?
Ferrara- Well ahhhhh shitttttt.!!!! (He expresses disgust over misdialing and forgets about my question.)
Carli-What kind of jobs did you do before you became a filmmaker.
Ferrara-I made films right from the beginning. That’s all I wanted to do.
Carli-Are there any particular actors that you feel you clicked with?
Ferrara-Harvey Keitel and Christopher Walken. Pretty much. Also Drea de Matteo, the actress I am working with right now.
Carli-Speaking of actresses, what was Asia Argento like?
Ferrara-Well she was my live-in and she kind of took over the world
Carli-What does that mean?
Ferrara-Well she came and just moved in with me. Oh, she took over my whole apartment and the whole movie. Don’t ever sleep with your leading actress: it isn’t conducive to good filmmaking. Try that on for size.
Carli-Can you tell us a little about your future projects?
Ferrara-I’m doing a film called “Go Go Tales.” Chris Walken is it. It’s about…. something. Well it’s a TV series based on… I mean it’s a motion picture, which could end up as a TV series.
Carli-Is there anyone you would like to work with in the future?
Ferrara-Yeah, there’s a lot man. There’s so many from all over. I see so many good films. The actors are what keeps me going. Actors and cinematographers. It’s just a matter of continuing to do your thing without compromising. Know what I mean?
Carli-You’ve had a lot of problems with censorship. Didn’t “The Bad Lieutenant'' get slapped with an NC17?
Ferrara-All of my films got threatened with the NC17. It’s one of those things, but at least they got made. The films that are really censored are the ones that don’t get made. That’s my battle know what I ma saying?
Carli-Should they change the rating system?
Ferrara-Censorship is a joke you know? In terms of adults anyway. In terms of television, there’s a lot of shit that I wouldn’t want to be presented to my children, but I never make films for children. You know what I’m saying?
Carli-Do you think the distribution system penalizes people who take chances and make innovative films?
Ferrera-Hahahahahahha (laughing wildly and sarcastically) I guess so. You’ve got to make your own distribution system. You have to be like that fucking Irish director who made that movie in four parts, “Time Code.” Mike Figgis that was his name. You can’t leave it up to those fucking dogs. You have to ride out that idea from the start to the finish. The distribution is as important as the editing and the writing or anything else. I’m a filmmaker and it’s my duty to take it all the way. Hopefully, one project will work out and it will be the seed for the next. You’ve got to keep those trees growing and growing.
Carli-Do you think that there are too many films that are made for children?
Ferrara-Well to each his own. Who am I to judge? I can only do what I do.
Carli-“New Rose Hotel” was adapted from a William Gibson story are you an admirrer of his work or cyberpunk?
Ferrara-Well. I loved reading that story, and I find things as I find them. If William Gibson is cyberpunk than I am into cyberpunk.
Carli-Can you tell us about your latest film?
Ferrra-“R Xmas” is set in 93 in Washington Heights. It’s supposedly based on a true story. It’s about a Puerto Rican woman and her Dominican husband. They start a heroin ring that goes through the roof and they make a ton of money. They get jet propelled into another life style or financial strata. It stars Drea de Matteo of “The Sopranos” and it will be the first film to tell the truth about drug distribution.
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