J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Ferrara at AFA: Mulberry St.

Why hasn’t anyone signed up Abel Ferrara for a reality TV show? Just watch this clip of the indie cult filmmaker on the old Conan show to get a sense of what it could be like. Indeed, Ferrara presents himself as quite a character in his documentary Mulberry St., which screens this Saturday as part of Anthology Film Archives’ Abel Ferrara in the 21st Century series of the director’s recent unreleased or under-distributed films.

If you had not guessed, Ferrara is Italian. He was also a resident of Little Italy. In fact, many of the nabe’s old school residents turn up in his early films. In Mulberry, Ferrara turns the camera on himself and his neighbors as they gear up for the annual Feast of San Gennaro. Of course, it is not like it used to be the old-timers tell us. They blame Giuliani for booting out the mob and the after-hours gambling. Reform is a drag.

Watching Ferrara kvetch and reminisce about his first film (a grungy porno that ironically was probably his most widely distributed) would be enjoyable television, but as a feature film, it is a bit thin. Still, Ferrara’s cronies like Butchie the Hat certainly have their charm. The frequent impromptu business confabs with Ferrara and his manager (and frequent co-star) Frankie Cee also go a long way toward explaining why so many of his films have such spotty distribution. Yet, that same eccentric Ferrara is evidently able to talk his way onto Danny Aiello’s label with only a brief cell phone introduction from the clearly bemused actor-singer.

Like Chelsea on the Rocks and to an extent Go Go Tales, Mulberry is Ferrara’s ode to the New York of yore, glorious in its grunginess. However, he never makes an overwhelming case for the superiority of the good old days. At least he is bizarrely watchable trying.

Obviously, Ferrara is wired a bit differently. Given his peerless indie cred, the IFC Channel ought to have their cameras follow him around the festival circuit. Frankly, Mulberry should be the pilot, not a theatrical documentary. Surely entertaining for his friends, but nothing resembling a breakout-comeback-whatever, Mulberry screens during AFA’s 21st Century Ferrara retrospective January 8th, 9th, 12th, 15th, and 16th.

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