23rd May 2023
7 minutes read
Abel Ferrara: “It’s in the Blood”
23rd May 2023
7 minutes read
Cover Image © Tony Notarberardino / Chelsea Hotel Portraits
Abel Ferrara is is perhaps one of the last truly independent film directors. A legendary eccentric, a law unto himself, his iconic films such as King of New York and Bad Lieutenant defined the thinking of generations of artists and directors about crime and redemption, violence, sex, and drugs. Ferrara had his share of everything – and unlike others, managed to survive. He has been living and filming in Rome for almost twenty years.
You’ve been sober for ten years.
Yes, yesterday was ten years.
Did you celebrate?
We paid remembrance, let’s say that. What can you drink to not drinking?
Do you know why you became an addict?
I maintained this idea that there is some kind of romance in taking drugs, in self-destruction. One day somebody gave me some stuff that made me feel great, the next step is i am convinced that I needed this crutch to be creative. All my heroes, Edgar Allan Poe,
Keith Richards, Billie Holiday, I could go on and on, Hemingway and Burroghs were addicts. You want to be an addict so you idolize other addicts. And tyou are in the fun house.It’s a vicious circle.
Not everyone who idolizes addicted artists become addicts themselves.
No, it’s a disease. Like being diabetic. An addict relates to drugs differently. I don’t have the same relationship to alcohol that other people have. I can’t stop drinking even if i wanted. It was in my family too. My father was an alcoholic, a drug addict. It’s in the blood. And in the fact that he raised me.
Has sobriety influenced your directing?
I don’t think it’s influenced the films. Now we do our thing, we just do it more. We’re not trying poison ourselves, spending half our lives waiting for a drug deal. But making movies is communal, there were other people that had my back, now I’m just a better person to be around for the rest of the cast and crew.
In King of New York the hero is Frank White, a criminal who wants to escape the darkness. Your last film was about Padre Pio who was declared a saint by the church. Have you started to develop an interest in the good guys?
Frank White is a gangster, on one hand you can’t compare him with Padre Pio, a capuchin monk but too in the movie is serarching for the light for his true calling. In King of New York you see a guy, you see him taking checks, you see him taking money, and talking about building hospitals, but all you see is a cake with the picture of a hospital. Padre Pio built a hospital, it exists. He didn’t just talk about it, and now hes been declared a saint. Frank ended up dead in the streets. I mean we make movies so the audience can come to their own conclusions. Do you know Biggie Smalls, was checked into his hotel as frank white on the night he was killed?
Shia LaBeouf plays Padre Pio. The film hasn’t been shown yet but has already received vitriol for the casting. In the US LaBeouf has been accused of sexual assault among others, which in our day and age is enough to end an actor’s career. It doesn’t seem like cancel culture worries you too much.
I don’t want to get into it. I think that the concept of political correctness depends on where you are and who you are. besides being cyclical in hollywood they always need an enemy the black list, the rating system. I know Shia, and I see an incredible actor and a totally different person from what he’s been accused of.
Like Pasolini and Fassbinder you often work with the same actors. How do you select who you work with?
Dedication to the craft and their faith and belief in film, and their understanding that it’s a group trip, that we’re in it together and its more just making a movie. Its about the relationship we have with each other.
Nicholas St. John, wrote the screenplay for King of New York and a number of your films, later you parted ways. Do you still talk?
I haven’t talked to Nicky for 22 years. And I’m not fine with it, but i got to live with it, because thats the way he wants it. He’s a devout catholic and we lived completely different lives. He never touched drugs. After a while he just had enough of making films. He arrived at zero interest in the film industry and the people in it.
Sándor JászberényiMore about the author