Iconoclast Lenny Bruce appears at San Francisco's Basin Street West in what was his next-to-last live appearance. His act that night consisted of reading allegations and transcripts from ...
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Iconoclast Lenny Bruce appears at San Francisco's Basin Street West in what was his next-to-last live appearance. His act that night consisted of reading allegations and transcripts from one of his several obscenity trials and then commenting on what he'd actually done or said. While there are some "bits" in the performance (including the prison riot with Dutch, the Warden, Father Flotski, and Sabu, the prison doctor), this is much more a social commentary on government intrusion and censorship than it is a comedy routine. Written by
I'm a Lenny Bruce fan. I know about Lenny Bruce, and I know about 'The Lenny Bruce Performance Film'. I know the circumstances under which the film was made, and the circumstances of Lenny's life and career at that time. Consequently, my expectations for this performance were low.
But from the very start... he's good. Not brilliant... but good. Unfortunately, good is such a come-down for Lenny Bruce. And the performance is not helped by the way it is filmed. Lenny is never seen in full figure, which tends to be the best way to show stand-up. The dim lighting was also as strong as Lenny's eyes could stand.
He looks rather chubbier than in his prime, and the trademark sharp suit has been replaced with looser clothes to hide his bulkier body. But THIS IS Lenny Bruce performing on film, and it is because so little of this exists, this this film has the fascination it does.
Lenny is working with a document in hand - a transcript of one of his prosecutions - and the bulk of his performance revolves around what this contains... How what he has said and done in nightclubs was misrepresented by the legal system of America.
And this main section of his performance works remarkably well. He knows the points he wants to make, he easily find the sections of the transcript he needs, his vocal technique is still very much in evidence, and he is FUNNY.
But very soon, we see what is lacking in this Lenny Bruce. The incisive mind may still be there, but the playfulness is gone. While discussing the law, he talks about mime artists losing their "freedom of speech". What an opportunity! He misses what could have been one of the best laughs of the night.
But even this adequate performance can't be sustained. The end is heart breaking. An obligation of this performance was that Lenny reproduce some of the classic routines of just a few years earlier... and suddenly he tries.
Very sad. He can't do it. He can't reproduce his original passion or delivery of those bits. Maybe he can't remember. One routine lasts a few seconds, before he tries another. Important lines we know should be there are missing. Lenny is clearly in trouble.
It is like watching one of those "peace officers" he earlier criticizes for hopelessly trying to portray Lenny Bruce the performer in court. Without the real Lenny Bruce speaking, these famous routines quietly die a death.
Eventually the performance dwindles to a close. Lenny goes to a side door, and improvises some lines to passers-by. We can't really hear what he is saying, and it seems embarrassing to try. After a minute or so, the door allows his escape.
This was Lenny's next to last nightclub performance. Within a year he will be dead.
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