Waiting for Abel

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:09

    Mary Directed by Abel Ferrara at Anthology Film Archives Oct. 17-23 Running Time: 83 min.

    Abel Ferrara earned his indie cred and auteur status with Bad Lieutenant, King of New York and Dangerous Games as a pioneering post-noir practitioner of Bad Guy is Good/Good Guy is Bad. Bad Good Guy frequently is despicable but is always cynical or a hypocrite and less pure persona-wise. Bad Good Guy professionally plods forward in the Man’s army, but he resents his pawnhood and pitiful paycheck. Ferrara tends to surround these character-reversal studies with copious doses of shock, awe and gore.

    In the process of making over 20 features in the last two decades, Abel has fully indulged himself with Autuerism’s perks—such as stylistic filmmaking, critical genre analysis coverage and final-cut approval. And he makes people wait for him, sometimes in vain.

    Several years ago, I waited futilely for Abel, with my camera in hand, for an hour in front of a cinema at the Hamptons Film Festival at the premiere of Ferrara’s movie rendition of William Gibson’s book, New Rose Hotel. Afterward, my industry friends, who have worked with Abel, laughed at my naive certainty that Ferrara would necessarily come to his own premiere. Ferrara’s American aficionados have been waiting too; not only for the DVDs that come out in Europe well before the States but also for the theatrical screenings of his last three features: Mary (2005), Go Go Tales (2007) and Chelsea on the Rocks (2008). Luckily Mary—in which Matthew Modine plays Jesus, a Mel Gibson/Abel Ferrara composite in a movie-within-a film, Juliette Binoche stars as Mary Magdalene/Marie Palesi and Forest Whitaker is a TV journalist with Heather Graham playing Whitaker’s wife—opens theatrically for the first time in NYC at Anthology Film Archives this week.

    I waited for a call from Ferrara so we could speak about the screening. And waited. After waiting a day and a half, I was too stressed to care. Then, at 10 minutes to midnight on Friday night, a call came in from a sympathetic journalist with Abel’s elusive cell. “Call him right now, he’s ready to talk.”

    But now I wasn’t ready, my brain foggy and wired at the same time. Fortunately a couple shots of top-shelf tequila anejo jolted me into proper interview mode.

    NYPress: The comments about Mary on IMDB are virtually incomprehensible. Do you feel that this chatroom-type of film reviewing will grow in importance as traditional print film criticism fades away?

    Abel Ferrara: Don’t bum me out. The Web is an information parking lot with too many people spreading second- and third-hand knowledge. I don’t mind being trashed by someone who is doing it as a job. You talk about the plus-side of the Internet; that’s definitely one of the downsides.

    A comment I read online asserted that your story of a modern-day Mary and Jesus came across as too serious on screen and was missing the trademark violence of an Abel Ferrara film.

    How can a film be too serious?

    Well they certainly took it seriously at the Venice Film Festival, where you won the jury prize. You know, when I won I was worried that it might be a bad-luck charm since that was the first big prize I ever received. Maybe I should have made Jesus have a black belt in karate. 

    Besides developing very thick skin and the patience to wait out the interminable distribution process, what advice would you give to aspiring auteurs?

    If you have a vision and something to say, don’t wait to be handed a pile of money and a union crew. Get a digital camera. Get Final Cut Pro and an upscale Mac. Just shoot it on the street if you have to.

    Besides that, make sure to see a lot of films. See as many as possible with other people on a big screen. And rent or buy a lot of films from the video store in order to study the history of the films. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. And don’t let anything stop you.