11 November 2009 | Ali_John_Catterall
The real King of New York
You've got to love the French, a people so in thrall to their beloved auteurs that they'll happily commission a documentary which almost exclusively consists of trailing leftfield director Abel Ferrara around the Manhattan streets at night and filming the mayhem. Fortunately, it's worth the ride.
Originally made for the French TV series 'Cinéma De Notre Temps' by a fellow outsider, the Iranian filmmaker Rafi Pitts, this isn't any kind of proper biog of the man and his controversial canon. Rather it is a grimy depiction of a larger-than-life talent going about his business - and everybody else's - bewildering strangers with an ingratiating charm.
It's a perfect approach for the subject matter. As Pitts later explained, "I knew that an interview situation wasn't going to give us any new information about Abel. The best way to portray him was to show him how he is." How much of this persona is a put-on, or whether he's genuinely unhinged, is unclear. But he's quite a vision - a hunched, cackling scarecrow in a pink NY Yankees baseball cap "for the gay ball players".
Elsewhere we find him shooting a music video, banging a piano, and rehearsing with actors - during which he appears at his most lucid, even tender. More delicious is the fact that, given his determined isolationism, the majority of people don't actually know who he is. At one point he'll tell a group of bemused bystanders (presumably wondering why a film crew is hanging on a madman's every delirious whim) that he's the subject of a series called 'Last Day On Earth' - "they film dying people".
Woe betide those who attract his ire. He berates a fellow driver at the traffic lights from his cab window, "It's my world - and you ain't part of it!" The connection between the man and his characters - wild, sad, or utterly alone - is made explicit; Ferrara, a Bronx native, is keeping it real. On nights like these - at least in his head - he really is the King of New York.