As a serious lifelong Lenny Bruce fan (I'm actually old enough to remember seeing him "live" on Steve Allen) I don't think there is any treatment, film or documentary that comes close to Mr. Weide's labor of love "Swear to Tell the Truth."
That includes Fosse & Dustin Hoffman's famous collaborative work on the film "Lenny." See this documentary, then go back and watch the film "Lenny" and you will see what I mean. The film "Lenny" is well intentioned and well done, but it can't carry the jock of Weide's "Swear to Tell the Truth."
"Swear to Tell the Truth" is the first work I've seen that correctly shows in detail and explains THE REAL REASONs why Lenny Bruce was hunted and persecuted by the authorities all the way to his eventual death. It wasn't "dirty words" in his act: the true cause of his persecution was his ruthless-yet-funny satires of the Catholic Church (I am catholic btw) and (initially) a major blunder on Bruce's part - when he blew the whistle publicly on a bribe he was offered to get out of a minor drug bust. Bruce is actually shown doing both on film in the documentary.
Weide really did his research and homework (supposedly 12 years worth). There are scenes and interviews with Lenny, his family, and close friends of Lenny's that even I have never seen before.
If it's so great, WHERE CAN I SEE IT? you ask:
Here is the BAD NEWS: This documentary as of the date of this post, will likely NEVER become available on DVD. I personally contacted Mr. Weide's Whyaduck Production company to find out why (a duck).
According to Whyaduck, there are copyright hassles / issues with the excellent jazz soundtrack (includes early Miles Davis and others). I was told due to these unresolved licensing squabbles (translated "greed" imo), we may never see the release on DVD of this excellent film. What a shame. Luckily I taped it (VHS) and I still go back and watch it all the time: never bored, always fascinated and finding new treats with each viewing.
Luckily it was a 1998 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, so it is sometimes (rarely) still shown on cable. Your best bet is to search for it occasionally on your PBS, Sundance, or HBO listings. Per Mr. Weide, it costs ~ 4 times as much to show it on regular cable (HBO / Sundance) due to commercial licensing fees, as opposed to PBS.
Thank you Mr. Weide for this excellent documentary, and I share your frustration. Greed is keeping this work of art from the public.
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