Release Date(s)2009 (July 12, 2016)
Studio(s)PFA Films (Raro Video USA)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
Of all the great contemporary directors, none is as criminally underrated in his own country as Abel Ferrara. Though his 1992 masterpiece The Bad Lieutenant garnered its share of accolades and awards, and films like Ms. 45 and King of New York have attracted well deserved cult followings, a large percentage of Ferrara’s output remains barely seen or commented upon in the United States. A fiercely original filmmaker who combines the sacred and the profane like no other (with the possible exception of Paul Schrader), Ferrara is a deeply moral, spiritual auteur who makes movies about the most squalid characters and environments imaginable – and who veers between such extremes of realism and stylization that the viewer can get whiplash sometimes. Ferrara has flirted with the Hollywood studio system – most notoriously with his exceptional 1993 The Body Snatchers, which was dumped by Warner Bros. at the time of its release but has recently been resuscitated on Blu-ray – but his best works are often those on the fringe, and many of them (Mary, Go Go Tales) have gotten little or no U.S. distribution. Even many of the films that did get a theatrical release, like The Addiction or The Funeral, have drifted into obscurity.
The relative inaccessibility of Ferrara’s work makes Raro Video’s new Blu-ray of his 2009 film Naples Naples Naples a cause for celebration. An uncategorizable hybrid of documentary, travelogue, and fictional narrative, it’s one of Ferrara’s most distinctive and compelling works – which is really saying something. The film begins as a documentary on women prisoners in the city of Naples, but as it progresses Ferrara opens up new lines of inquiry, extending the ideas raised by the prison interviews to make a film about the economic, gender, and racial divides in this city he seems both enamored of and horrified by. There are interviews with journalists, sociologists, and criminals, but as the film progresses it slowly becomes apparent that some of the subjects are actors – though the lines of delineation between fact and fiction are never clear. A storyline involving a lost soul, a prostitute whose bleak existence Ferrara conveys with agonizing immediacy, emerges and weaves in and out of another storyline involving some low-level hoods, and both storylines bounce off of the documentary material to form a tapestry of a city and a philosophical exploration of class in the 21st century.
It’s a big, ambitious movie, but also a strangely intimate one – Ferrara appears in the movie as himself and acts as a sort of tour guide, making it clear that this is his ground’s eye view of the city and its people. The juxtaposition of the micro and the macro, of resilience and devastation (both as they apply to Naples as a whole and to the people Ferrara follows), and of naturalism and expressionism make Naples Naples Naples a uniquely challenging experience, and an essential one. The presentation on Raro Video’s Blu-ray is solid – if the image and sound are sometimes a bit unstable, this is likely due to the source material caught on the fly rather than to any shortcomings in the transfer – and there’s a nice half-hour documentary on the film’s making that offers tantalizing glimpses of Ferrara at work. Even better is the accompanying booklet, which contains critical essays on the film and Ferrara’s career as a whole, along with a personal statement by Ferrara. Based on the excellence of this package, one can only hope that Raro Video will see fit to bring some of Ferrara’s other neglected masterworks to Blu-ray.
- Jim Hemphill