Friday, December 02, 2005

Day 63: Lenny

The movie opens with a close-up on a pair of lips, pauses, and then begins.  It's an appropriate image to begin on, seeing as the movie deals with the power of words, and the lips are as shocking and compelling as a gun barrel pointed right at us.  

Lenny is nearly a masterpiece, the ultimate biopic with such a steady, focused gaze and a remarkable point of view that never betrays itself.  It's undone only by an ending that feels too rushed, jumping ahead to Lenny Bruce's death too quickly and then ignoring the facts of Lenny Bruce's death to explore the why.  Having said this, it's remarkable that it ends on an image as appropriate as the lips that greet us, a single image of Bruce's corpse that adds one final wrinkle of meaning to this story of the man's life.  

The movie understands, where most biopics don't, that if you're going to find meaning from one man's life, you have to pick a point of view to watch him from.  What's superb about Lenny's point-of-view is that it takes place after his death, intermingling moments from late in his life with earlier moments and showing, through some really delicious editing, how these two points relate, how they speak to each other, and how they affect one another.  Combine this with faked, mocumentary style interviews with actors portraying the people in Bruce's life talking about the effect that he's had on them and how they impacted his life at certain crosspoints, and you have a rich, powerful tapestry about, as the movie would have it, a flawed, yet insightful spokesperson for the freedom of speech.

Dustin Hoffman blasts out of the atmosphere with his performance as Bruce, goes to the moon, and comes back to trade rocks.  He's freakishly good, impassioned and hurting, a fact no more apparent than in the scene when he attempts to perform while high on heroin.  The camera's locked down in a wide shot of the stage as Hoffman stumbles about, unable to string coherent thoughts together, and desperate to be loved.  The way it's shot is painful enough for anyone who's had a bad experience on a stage, the unblinking camera watches every mistake as attentively as the audience, but Hoffman's spot-on delivery makes it even more so.  After a few unsuccessful attempts at doing his act, he whispers into the microphone a barely audible, "I'm not funny," and walks off.

This is the second Bob Fosse movie I've reviewed for One Movie a Day, and I will say this about his work: he knows how to cut a movie.  Even with the vast amount of overindulgences featured in All That Jazz, the movie, like this one, had some powerful contrapuntal moments in the edit.  And, here, the cutting works well at aping the style of a Lenny Bruce performance, moving rapidly from one thought to the next and then slowing down to savor a particularly juicy bit.  It's effective and nearly maddeningly intense.  

I loved this movie.  Smart, funny, and well crafted, it vaults over nearly every other biopic I've ever seen and stands out as one of the greatest, most sincere movies about the agonizing futility (and necessity) of fighting a society's fear of certain words with those very same words.  

1 comment:

he who is known as sefton said...

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After perusing your website, I conjectured you'd be interested in my post titled, "sweetest nookie". In this post, you'll find some notions about how Lenny, were he around today, might comment about the recent kerfuffle in the Middle East.

Anyway, you'll find the hyperlink to the post just below

toodles

http://hewhoisknownassefton.blogspot.com/2006/08/sweetest-nookie.html