Film Reviews

Cannes and Abel

Cannes, FRANCE —"Whaddya love about it so much?"

Abel Ferrara — director of the strip-club-set Go Go Tales, my favorite film at Cannes — is interviewing the interviewer.

Well, I say it's consistent with the Ferrara oeuvre — King of New York, Bad Lieutenant, Dangerous Game, et cetera — in that it's about performance, about struggling to make one's mark on the world, about having a philosophy and wanting to express it with flamboyance, but being reined in by the conservative demands of society at large. It's a portrait of the artist — Lotto-addicted club owner and emcee Ray Ruby (Willem Dafoe) — as . . . practically a pimp.

Then it occurs to me to ask: Is this film an allegory, Abel? I mean, what's the difference between Hollywood and a strip club?

He laughs. "You know, I actually forgot how much that club in the film reminds me of Cannes."

Ferrara certainly did his best to fashion le festival in the image of Paradise, his New York Go Go joint. For his mid-afternoon festival press conference, the auteur smuggled in a bottle of Bud, along with a dais-busting line of exotic-dancing actresses. (One of these — Shanyn Leigh, who plays Dolly — he proudly introduced as the "love of my life.") His party at Villa Babylone, complete with lap dances and a sudsy pool, earned a three-and-a-half-martini rating (out of four) from The Hollywood Reporter (whose humorless critic deemed the film itself "scuzzy").

So, too, the Bronx-born director created his "New York" from the ground up in Rome (where he's now based), on a soundstage of the legendary Italian studio Cinecitta. "We built our own club and it was the best in town," Ferrara says of the location, which impersonates 20th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues. Still, for Ferrara, the major virtue of shooting in Europe is that he doesn't have to worry as much about the American film industry, wherein his work has always been underestimated. "As tough as the Italian film business is right now, it's nothing like Hollywood. I mean, in Europe, final cut [for the director] is a law. The work is sacrosanct."

Where other veteran film iconoclasts have naturally switched to digital as a way of maintaining autonomy, Ferrara continues to shoot 35mm. "Fabio Cianchetti is a brilliant cinematographer; his work deserves to be on 35. I gotta give Kodak credit, too — they're not giving up the fight. I'm dying to do a digital film, but I want to do it on the internet —a modern-day version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Willem and [Matthew] Modine — and put it out in 10-minute increments. I know that watching films on computer is the future — it's a direct connection to the audience. But for now we're still doing our own thing."