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I went into this film knowing nothing about the comic Lenny Bruce, and
after watching this film I have already added two of his CDs to my Wish
List. I am eager to hear more, to listen to his words, and be intrigued
by how his thoughts are still relevant in today's society. This was a
beautiful film made in 1974. The decision by director Bob Fosse to film
it completely in black and white was brilliant. Hoffman and Perrine's
chemistry is brilliant as well as their performances. The power of this
man is vividly demonstrated through this film, leaving you with
questions answered as well as a desire to hear more. This was such a
captivating feature. From the opening sequence of words spewing from a
mouth to the final shot of Lenny Bruce, I was glued to my seat.
To begin, the cinematography was better than most feature films. Fosse knew what he was doing and did it with the greatest of ease. His choice to film completely in black and white really helped me hear the words that Bruce spoke instead of just being involved in the colors that surrounded him. The black and white feature gave Hoffman the ability to create a human from his character and take us away from Hoffman and into the mind of comic Lenny Bruce. The shots that Fosse used also assisted with building this compelling story. Every shot is important in this film, and Fosse does a great job of demonstrating and explaining the "why" and "where" of a scene. This was his first and only non musical, and he was triumphant. The way that the story works in a pseudo-documentary style was impeccable. While you are never quite told who the person is behind the camera, you do get that raw emotion from the actors as if you were watching a real documentary. There was just so much emotion that Fosse pulled from his troupe in this film that you could only watch in amazement. It also left the door open to the question of who is behind the camera. With the words that Bruce said nightly in his show, I couldn't help but think of the possibility of government conspiracy. Maybe I am way off, but there was that aura of "cover-up" throughout this film. Even the final sequence gives off that sense.
BAM Powerful cinematography is right in front of you, but whom do we have in the center of the camera? None other than a very young and fresh Dustin Hoffman. This film really showcased his talents. While he had several films before this one that brought him into the spotlight, I thought that he went above and beyond for this film. He really transformed himself into the character. Some of my favorite moments with Hoffman in Lenny was when he thinks about the nurse the first time, when Honey calls asking for money, and when he asks the Judge to sentence him now instead of going through the trial. The vision of defeat was spectacular. You see in this film why Hoffman is considered one of the greats of Hollywood. Valerie Perrine, also a young actress at the time, was immaculate. Her portrayal of Honey needs to go in the history books. Actresses today could take a moment or two to learn from this dramatic actress. These two actors really brought this film together. They took you deep into the life of this radical thinker and kept you nestled deeply inside of him. They shined greatly, and the Academy saw it too!
BAM Cinematography, BAM award winning acting, what can be the final BAM? How about Lenny Bruce? Born well after his death, I had never even heard of the man, but the words that I witnessed from this film from his mouth shocked me. Not so much because of the shock value that surrounded them, but just how relevant his work is still today. As homosexuality becomes a staple in our community and society, Lenny's comments on the teachers in this film seemed like topics we are still talking about today. He was way ahead of his time, and I think that is why people feared him. Living with an English teacher, I am constantly involved with the English language, but I am also shown information about those that have no interest because they do not see how it relates to "real" life. I am also aware of how little respect English gets as daily we hear of schools cutting back on their Literature studies to help support their sports program, or how the first way to cut back spending is to close libraries. These are sad days that we live in, and if only people could see how powerful words can be in defending yourself and explaining the world, I think we would see a rebirth. If I had the option to fight with a loaded gun or an aggressive dictionary, I think you can see which I would choose. Lenny Bruce did no harm to anyone, he spoke his mind, and for that he was convicted. What a sad day for America.
Grade: ***** out of *****
The life of late stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce (played by Oscar-nominee Dustin Hoffman) is the focus of "Lenny", a dark and disturbing staircase of horrors from director Bob Fosse (Oscar-nominated). In the late-1950s and early-1960s the titled character defied convention by getting in front of nightclub crowds and saying anything and everything that was on his mind. He cursed profusely, talked about the U.S. government, made fun of taboo subjects (homosexuality, drug use, etc.) and basically upset every group and racial minority you can think of. Through the film Hoffman has strange views on every topic that dominated the time period and marries a club stripper (Valerie Perrine in her Oscar-nominated role) that has an intense drug abuse problem herself. The film is told in stunning flashbacks that are displayed in a documentary style by those who knew the comedian best (Lenny Bruce apparently overdosed on drugs intentionally to kill himself). Filmed entirely in black-and-white, "Lenny" is a terrifying story about how freedom is not always an option in certain circles. The film is full of intense sexual situations, drug abuse and constant adult language. Younger audiences have no business viewing this production, but all those of a mature age should give "Lenny" a try. The film stands very strong with the other big films of 1974 ("The Godfather, Part II" and "Chinatown" most notably). 5 stars out of 5.
Lenny Bruce loved words. The most common misconception is that he did
not. Today, Bruce is best known for revolutionizing the face of
stand-up paving the way for such future talents as George Carlin and
Bill Hicks but not many people are actually familiar with his comedy,
and that's a shame, because there was a lot more to it than just
He was infamously arrested over a dozen or so times for speaking offensively in comedy clubs, and eventually began to represent himself in court. He never gained respect when he was alive, and so he died a frustrated, misunderstood soul who was simply far too ahead of his time.
The masses didn't get him. His racial jokes and political satire was misinterpreted and taken at face value. His sermons ridiculing religion drew hate from conservative Americans.
But Bruce enjoyed toying with words, and bending the typical perception of what they symbolized he cherished the impact they had on people. When Bruce said a certain four-letter expletive, it wasn't to purposely offend people it was to help liberate their ways of thinking. Words were an entryway - once he could knock people off-balance, he was free to go for the throat. He used foul language in the same way as he used words dealing with religion, homosexuals, politics and the world he used them to make a point. And it's a shame his point didn't resonate until after his death.
The makers of "Lenny" understood Bruce, though. They also understood his flaws as a human being, and the result is an unflinchingly honest biopic that paints a dark, staunch portrait of a troubled man. Dustin Hoffman presents Lenny as an alternately despicable and heroic figure, and there is a spark in his eyes throughout the early scenes of the movie that eventually gives way to desperation later in the picture. Hoffman is so convincing we forget we are watching an actor. He entirely embodies himself within Lenny Bruce, adapting all of the comic's tics and habits.
The movie is told from the perspective of those who knew Bruce his wife, Honey (Valerie Perrine), his aunt, and his manager. The narrative cuts back and forth between scenes with Lenny and interview segments, which we see through the eyes of an off-screen interviewer (whose voice is none other than the movie's director, Bob Fosse).
"Lenny" is an uncomfortable film, and it is not by any means perfect. The matter-of-fact narrative is a bit alienating and prevents us from getting entirely close to Bruce but that may very well have been the point. A more heartfelt biography of the performer perhaps would have restricted Fosse and screenwriter Julian Barry from divulging into Lenny's more seedy character traits such as when he coerces his unwilling wife into a threesome with another woman, later ridiculing her for doing so; or when he goes on stage completely drugged out of his mind and makes a fool of himself. If they had allowed audiences to empathize with Bruce to a greater degree, truth may have been sacrificed along the way. And although the narrative is rather cold, it's also unique sometimes refreshingly so.
Despite imperfections, "Lenny" is one of the better motion pictures of the 1970s and perhaps one of the movies that best capture the essence of cinema from a time when the mainstream and art-house were coexistent.
It is a typical 1970s production insofar as that it is grim, bleak and more depressing than any production you would have seen on the screen a decade earlier but it's an admirable feat. Fosse has a close grip on the direction and Hoffman and Perrine are both absolutely superb, bringing to life two very tortured souls who temporarily found solace in each other, before finding their relationship put to the test by drug abuse and self-loathing.
Lenny died from a heroin overdose in 1966. In 2003 he was granted a posthumous pardon by New York State for his most notable arrest in 1964, for an "obscene performance." It's a nice gesture, although one can't help but think it would have only really made a difference 40 years ago.
Lenny is the story of the controversial comedian Lenny Bruce whose wild
antics and crude humor lead to rise and ultimately his fall. This film
though takes the risk of being shaped in a documentary-esquire design.
Watching the opening minutes of the film worried me that this film
would retreat into itself rather then expand in the so many aspects in
which it actually did.
Lenny is portrayed with extraordinary and edgy depth by Dustin Hoffman. For me, this is the film that convinced me that Dustin Hoffman is truly a first rate actor. The range shown here by him from beginning to end is astounding in not his portrayal of the change in his personality, but in the drastic but slow transformation in his mental and psychological state. The range of the cast in general is quite commendable in the break stints in the film in which they are shown to be interviewed individually on the life of Lenny Bruce.
With this unique style of film making, much credit should be given to Bob Fosse who brings an original visual experience. Also the screenplay by Julian Barry is totally engaging. In my opinion this movie is indicative of the revolutionary style brought to movies during the 1970s. Lenny might be one of the most courageous movies ever made and it reaches its full potential.
To be honest I don't think the rest of the film quite deserves 8 stars,
but Dustin Hoffman's performance as Lenny Bruce is so extraordinary
that it lifts the movie up to that rating.
Made in a fairly familiar quasi-documentary style, 'Lenny' begins with 'present day' (i.e. 1974) interviews with the surviving characters from Lenny's life, cut with flashbacks to his 1950's beginnings as a 'traditional' comic, and 'late' live performances in his post-drug-bust days. As the film progresses and the narrative catches up with the interviews, the gaps between these segments 'close'. Clever use is made of some of Lenny's material, cutting from keywords or phrases in his bits, to events in his life with inspired or correlated to them.
All the same there is something a little dry and disappointing in the film's structure: almost as if it could have used a more conventional, linear narrative, like Milos Forman's tribute to Andy Kauffman, 'Man on the Moon' would use to such great effect 25 years later.
Ironically though, such a structure might have deprived of us of seeing more of Hoffman doing Lenny's bits 'live' on stage - and for me these were the highlights, which I wish had lasted longer, rather than flashing back to some past event after 30 seconds. As a big Lenny Bruce fan, I can only say that Hoffman's portrayal is almost supernatural. It's like he's channeling the guy. He has his mannerisms and improvisational style down perfectly. You would swear you were seeing these improvisations for the first time if you hadn't heard them already. In fact, Hoffman possibly even improves on Lenny's delivery in one small respect. Lenny had a penchant for the 'conversation' that would erupt in the middle of one of his bits, between two or more characters. Hoffman probably puts a bit more distinction between the characters than Lenny often did (quite often they would all just sound like Lenny, which was part of the magic, but never mind.) Over 30 years on, it's quite amazing to me that this film has become a relative obscurity in Dustin Hoffman's filmography. Frankly, though Hoffman has blown me away on various occasions, I don't ever remember being more blown away than this. And if you were to pick easy people to imitate, I doubt Lenny Bruce on stage would be high on many people's lists.
The film as a whole is good, but to witness Hoffman channeling Bruce, it's a must-see.
When I first put this movie in I thought I knew what to expect. I expected
a good movie with a great actor in Dustin Hoffman. Well, as soon as it
started and there is Hoffman's first dialogue through the credits, I was
blown away. It was as if Lenny was starring in the film. I couldn't
believe what I was seeing and hearing. Hoffman and Valerie Perrine gave
excellent performances. It is almost inconceivable to imagine the
preparation and training that Hoffman must have gone through to get Lenny
down. I don't know who beat out Hoffman for the best actor award in 1974,
but I can't imagine it being a more convincing performance than this.
And the use of black and white was great. The movie did give Lenny the appreciation that he deserved, mainly by showing his troubled personal life and his troubles with the law. The movie portrayed the trouble and basically harassment that Lenny went through when he voiced his observations of society, which were true, but weren't quite ready to be heard yet. The only fault (if at all) of the film is that it didn't quite show Lenny's genius in what he did. It definitely showed his potential but not quite his brilliance. But this might be because it was a biography of sorts of his life which included his personal and public life. I suppose if the movie just focused on his comedic talents; than his genius would have been obvious, but that wasn't the focus of the film. All in all this is an excellent movie in what it attempted to do. It accomplished what it set out to do and that's what counts.
This biopic about shock comedian Lenny Bruce was Bob Fosse's followup
to his well-received 1972 film "Cabaret." I'm pretty sure that "Lenny"
was a financial bomb, and I'm not surprised. It's a relentlessly
depressing and ugly film, despite the stylish polish Fosse gives it.
Anyone who has seen Fosse's last film, "Star 80," knows just how
nihilistic this director could be, and "Lenny" shows evidence of that.
It is a fascinating film though, in its own way. Fosse uses a documentary-like approach, complete with black and white photography and a narrative device in which we see Bruce's long-suffering love (played heartbreakingly by Valerie Perrine, Lex Luthor's bikini-clad girlfriend in "Superman" ) telling Bruce's story to a filmmaker while the actual events themselves are played out as flashbacks. Fosse was fond of this confessional type of storytelling and would use it again in "All That Jazz" (1979). Dustin Hoffman is simply sensational as Bruce; he utterly disappears into this caustic character until no trace of Hoffman the actor is left. Technically, everything about the film is highly accomplished, but it's so desolately grim as to be off putting.
I saw this film during it's initial release in the theaters but have only seen it twice since then. It didn't get much of a TV life. Dustin Hoffman is stellar as social commentary/satirist/observationalist/blue language comic Lenny Bruce. He was nominated for Best Actor for the 1974 Academy Award for his role but lost out to Art Carney for Harry and Tonto. Veteran actor Albert Finney was also nominated that year but Carney won on sentiment and Hoffman lost out when he and fellow nominees Jack Nicholson for Chinatown and Al Pacino for Godfather II split the vote which led to Carney's win. Valerie Perrine in her only Oscar nomination of her career was up for Best Actress. Lenny was up for most of the major awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Bob Fosse. It was also nominated for Best Screenplay and Cinematography but came up empty in all six nominations. Hoffman had just come off playing another biographical figure of Louis Dega in Pappion and would be Carl Bernstein in his his next film All the President's Men. Lenny Bruce had only been dead for eight years when Hoffman portrayed him on the big screen so much of the audience knew Bruce fairly fresh in their memories so to portray a contemporary figure of Bruce's genius and legend was not an easy role for Hoffman to step into but his portrayal of the doomed and controversial comic is compelling. Fosse, known for his choreography which is still being used in films like Chicago years after his death only directed five theatrical films and three of those were musicals in Sweet Charity, Caberet and All That Jazz so Lenny would be the first of only two non-musicals he would direct, both biographies, Lenny and Star 80. I don't think as a film this had enough to be a best picture but Hoffman was deserved of his best actor nomination and arguably should have won the Oscar for it. I would give this an 8.5 out of 10 and recommend it.
Well if I was ever in any doubt about Dustin Hoffman's talent this movie truly has put an end to it. I've seen enough footage of the real Lenny Bruce to realise just what a great performance this is. He looks so like Bruce, and the mannerisms are so well done it is hard to think of any way this performance could be improved upon. The direction and camera work are also superb as is Valerie Perrine's performance as Bruce's wife. It seems impossible to give this less than ten out of ten.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the most common eulogies today for Lenny Bruce is that he died
for our sins. Perhaps one of the strongest points of "Lenny" is that it
does not overtly proclaim the truth of this sentiment, one way or the
other - the overdose sequence comes, naturally, after the crescendo of
Lenny's legal losses and might therefore lead one to believe that his
death was caused by his struggle for freedom of speech. However we are
also treated to multiple examples of Lenny's hedonism and the choices
(perhaps poor, perhaps misguided) that are also to blame for his death.
Did he die for our sins? Or did he die because he overdosed on heroin
when he should have known better? A little bit of both, but both Fosse
and Hoffman leave it open.
Hoffman is simply wonderful. I have never seen footage of a Bruce concert/performance, but I have several as music files and have listened to them many times (particularly the Berkeley and Carnegie Hall performances that are also undoubtedly CDs now); Hoffman captures his verbal mannerisms perfectly. The pauses, the stutters, the sly laugh - close your eyes and Lenny Bruce is right there. Much of the material will be familiar to anyone who has listened to Bruce's work, but there is also much that I have never heard. The last performance in which Lenny is on stage in nothing except a raincoat, in particular, is eye opening - according to the trivia it actually occurred and was sent in by a student who was at the show.
The black and white look lends the film a very raw feel, which is fitting given Lenny's comic mannerisms and subjects. I don't know much about cinematography, but I do know that it worked well.
The film also makes it very clear that Bruce was far more than tit jokes and profanity. It's easy for some to see and hear Lenny Bruce and think him unoriginal, boring and simply not that big of a deal especially in comparison to the comedy of today. My personal opinion is that Bruce is just as funny today as he was when he was alive: a dangerous kind of funny, a ha-ha funny in which you're not sure if you should be laughing but you do it anyway, a funny unafraid of anything, any boundary and any social more. Yes he is shocking, and yes sometimes some of the comedy is derived from obscenity in the way that some of the comedy of many an otherwise "highbrow" movie is derived from the obscene, but ultimately Lenny's value was that he laughed at his (and our) faults and made it seem okay to join him. The scene where he very dramatically segue ways from a successful bit to him calling for "niggers" is an example of this; it holds its value even today. The audience is shocked, sure that he has finally stepped over the line, and Lenny reels them in with his skill and acuity, going around pointing out the "kykes", "spic", "wops", etc. and noting that if JFK used the word "nigger" everyday in his public speech it might one day mean that the word no longer had the power to make a twelve year old black kid cry. It is just one more example of the power of words and of Lenny Bruce's awareness of this.
The clear dilemma of the movie is that Bruce is crass, rude, selfish, often annoying, highly unlikable... and ultimately right. I have always gotten the sense that Lenny was most undoubtedly an asshole, and that the case for martyrdom has a little too much revisionism going for it. I don't think he did his comedy to empower the rest of us, per se, nor to make a sacrifice for freedom of speech and, by inference, the soul of America. I think that Lenny Bruce was just being Lenny Bruce, that he could no more NOT get up in front of an audience and speak frankly of what was on his mind than you or I could stop breathing on purpose. That he did so was right and natural for him, and to do otherwise would probably have driven him mad or at least mediocre; it does not diminish his impact nor his contribution to American comedy, American society and America.
Hoffman and Fosse have brought all of this out. See this movie - especially if you're easily offended, because you need it the most.
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