For the French cinephile series Cinéma de notre temps, Rafi Pitts made an intimate portrait of the American film maker Abel Ferrara. The result is an eccentric road-movie, with the restless Ferrara as a charming, seedy guide, leading us through nocturnal New York. Pitts' introverted approach offers all the room Ferrara needs and he has no trouble filling this space with his larger-than-life personality. We see him quarrel with taxi drivers, start talking frankly to strange women in the street and tell his version of the truth, to anyone who wants to hear. But his isolation becomes apparent, in an America, to which Ferrara does not want to conform. Written by
Abel Ferrara is the director behind the excellent KING OF NEW YORK (1990) and BAD LIEUTENANT (1992). He's often wound up folks in Hollywood, refusing to fit into the respectable facade that directors are supposed to project. In NOT GUILTY (taken from a French TV documentary series) we see Ferrara in all of a glory, a hulking guy with messed up teeth and a bottle and cigarette always in his hands. He carries something of the charm of Bukowski... a lumbering, likable and talented rogue who pulls other people along with him.
But Ferrara hasn't made a truly notable feature film since the superb THE FUNERAL in 1996, and has often ended up making shitty sleaze, music videos, documentaries and short films. He's been attached to various projects that he's pulled out of - like GAME OF DEATH - and failed to get funding for grand visions like JECKYLL AND HYDE because - as he says - he "refuses to kiss the feet of Hollywood" Ever since he burst onto the scene with his low-grade horror DRILLER KILLER, Ferrara has been considered eccentric and untameable. NOT GUILTY captures this side of Ferrara very well. He talks - often very interestingly - to anyway who takes his fancy. He describes a chase scene to a guy in a music shop (who says - after Ferrara leaves - that the first time he came into the shop he had to throw him out), flirts outrageously with some gals in the street, directs a music video, and gives some wisdom on New York life as he cruises around with his buddies. And all this is in what is essentially a 24 hour snapshot of Ferrara's life.
The snapshot nature of the film is a positive in some ways. In fact, you can almost see Ferrara slowly sober up (then get drunk again) and it captures Ferrara's hectic, fun but often shambolic life. The bullshit he spouts to girls is frequently hilarious and - somehow - he almost seems to be winning them over....
But the character of Ferrara is so wacky that you'd prefer to see more. A proper documentary following him for a longer period of time, ideally taking in how he behaves on a full film set. It's little wonder Harvey Keitel's version of the "Bad Lieutenant" is so loopy with Ferrara at the helm, probably stripped naked and making aeroplane noises to show Keitel exactly what he wants.
NOT GUILTY is a fun watch. It's one that will play much better for fans of Ferrara's (good) movies, but should also appeal to fans of lovable drunks.
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