'A Guy Walks Into the United States Art Authority...'
Feral Cinema/Lenny Bruce
By Marc Savlov,
10:59AM, Thu. Jul. 15, 2010
There's no telling what seminal comic/provocateur Lenny Bruce would make of the mess were in these days, but as the late, great mouth that roared was fond of saying, "It is to laugh and cry."
That said, Feral Cinema presents a screening of Bob Fosse's uncanny 1974 film Lenny this evening at 7:30 pm, at the United States Art Authority. A mere $5 admission gets you noneother than Dustin Hoffman in the title role of the troubled comedian, plus a side order of live stand up comedy from Lucas Molandes Bryan Gutmann and Amber Bixby, hosted by Seth Johnson.
Bob Chicago Fosse might seem like an unlikely director to helm a biopic on comedy’s patron saint, but considering Lenny Bruce’s jazz-inspired delivery, the resulting 5 Academy Award nominations aren’t so surprising.
As critic Albert Goldman described him, 'Lenny worshipped the gods of Spontaneity, Candor and Free Association. He fancied himself an oral jazzman. His ideal was to walk out there like Charlie Parker, take that mike in his hand like a horn and blow, blow, blow everything that came into his head just as it came into his head with nothing censored, nothing translated, nothing mediated, until he was pure mind, pure head sending out brainwaves like radio waves into the heads of every man and woman seated in that vast hall. Sending, sending, sending, he would finally reach a point of clairvoyance where he was no longer a performer but rather a medium transmitting messages that just came to him from out there – from recall, fantasy, prophecy. A point at which, like the practitioners of automatic writing, his tongue would outrun his mind and he would be saying things he didn’t plan to say, things that surprised, delighted him, cracked him up – as if he were a spectator at his own performance."
Made in 1974 (eight years after Bruce’s death, when his routines were finally safe for the big screen), Lenny chronicles the rise of a burlesque club comic to social satirist to heroin casualty (or death by 'an overdose of police,' as one journalist observed), and its success is due in no small part to a sharp screenplay by Julian Barry adapted from his own play, and a young Dustin Hoffman’s gritty portrayal of a comic who truly suffered for his art, and has been cited as an influence by Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Bill Hicks among many others. Not since Oscar Wilde had a man been virtually hounded to death by the authorities for refusing to bend to their idea of acceptable art, Bruce’s countless arrests in the 60s for his uncensored club routines leading up to an obscenity conviction that was upheld even after testimonials by the likes of Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer and Woody Allen, only to be overturned following his death. Here’s a man who once impersonated a priest and solicited $8,000 in door-to-door donations in order to get his stripper girlfriend off the stage, and avoided jail time because he donated a portion of the proceeds to a leper colony. If that doesn’t provide an insight into the complex mind of this compassionate yet uncompromising performer, and inspire you to examine a man who turned his life into a work of art that reflected society’s own contradictions and hypocrisies, you’re missing out on the beauty of the human comedy.