Tuesday, 5 February 2008

TOP NOTCH FERRARA

When it comes to Abel Ferrara, I'm hard pushed to select any individual title as being his best work to date, but THE ADDICTION has to be very close to representing this director at the peak of his powers. While I'd love to see a fully loaded special edition of this film hit DVD, this looks unlikely at best. Let's just keep our fingers crossed and hope.
My first encounter of this film came in 1995 at the Fantasm Film Festival at London's National Film Theatre. The organisers had arranged for a 'mystery film' to be screened and were understandably tight-lipped as to its identity. I asked fest organiser Alan Jones if he could give us a guess with regard to the title, and he just told me it was a relatively short film and very sleazy. When I offered the name of Ferrara's latest, he muttered something and walked off. Alan always worked so hard with Fantasm, and the festival gave many of us hours of pleasure, with the hosts only too keen to chat to the audience. THE ADDICTION screening remains one of my favourites, and it's a film I never tire of seeing.

THE ADDICTION
Lili Taylor, Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco, Paul Calderon, Kathryn Erbe

"To find rest takes a real genius"

Documentary footage from the My Lai massacre. Disturbing images from The Holocaust. Quotations from the works of Sartre, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Baudelaire.... welcome to Nicholas St. John's darkest New York story, where philosophy student Kathleen Conklin (Lili Taylor) swaps one addiction for another following a ferocious attack by predatory vampire Casanova (Annabella Sciorra - "Wanna know what's gonna happen to you? Wait and see"). As Kathleen's mind and body go through a slow, torturous change, course tutor (Paul Calderon) and fellow student Jean (Edie Falco) grow increasingly concerned by her behaviour, and eventually find themselves inhabiting the same twilight world. Kathleen's agony - both mental and physical - intensifies when she encounters another vampire, Peina (Christopher Walken), who claims he's been 'fasting' for 40 years and that he can teach her abstinence: a case of will controlling habit, or throwaway lines from another false witness? If Kathleen feels her thirst for knowledge (libraries with "rows of crumbling tombstones") is akin to slow suffocation, Peina's offer to teach her discipline is worse. He's in the same mould as her tutor, so the rejection of both evils is her only option.
"There's a difference between jumping and being pushed."THE ADDICTION is about choices. Kathleen makes her decision and continues a downwards spiral, playing hostess at her graduation party which turns into a bloody massacre. Here, Kathleen's victims lay waste to their enemies from the charnel house of learning; a frenzied assault that takes it's toll on Conklin who ends up in a hospital bed, suffering from a heavy blood overdose.And so we move towards the haunting finale, which can be interpreted in any one of three different ways; just one aspect of a film that marks the most challenging and fruitful collaboration between Abel Ferara and scriptwriter Nicholas St. John. Written after the tragic death of St. John's son, THE ADDICTION examines the very nature of evil, with a literate screenplay raising many profound questions and, refreshingly, attempting to come up with the answers. Ferrara and St. John have never been afraid of getting their hands dirty, and long-time supporters of this duo will find THE ADDICTION inhabits the same seedy locale as BAD LEIUTENANT and MS 45, sharing themes of addiction and redemption with the former, and echoing several scenes from the latter: witness Casanova snatching Kathleen off the street and dragging her down a dark alley, while Kathleen's 'Victim's Ball' is next door neighbour to Thana's MS 45 massacre. The names of Zoe Lund (RIP) and Harvey Keitel are synonymous with the aforementioned films, but The Addiction is also blessed with several outstanding performances that improve with age: Lili Taylor taking us into a world of of pain, changing from a young, free-thinking woman into a feral child of darkness who must find the strength to move back into the light; Christopher Walken playing Christopher Walken, which means the character of the (possibly) charlatan Peina is an all-too brief pleasure to behold, and solid support from Paul Calderon and Edie Falco. Even Kathryn Erbe's few allotted minutes have considerable impact as Kathleen turns an all night study session into a virtual replay of her own ordeal ("My indifference is not the concern here. It's your astonishment that needs study.") Annabella Sciorra? Definitely the cream of the crop, taking all the best lines and making every word count, while exhibiting a strong sexual presence with a deliciously violent scent of the supernatural. Those reared on traditional vampire law will find St. John's script merely pays lip service to established conventions; covered mirrors, aversion to light and extended bursts of blood-sucking are all represented but the real deal here concerns the eternal questions surrounding mankind: we do evil because we are evil. The last 30 years have produced a host of great vampire movies: Romero's MARTIN, Larraz's VAMPYRES, Kumel's DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, Kath Bigelow's wonderful NEAR DARK, Neil Jordan's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE ( a worthier version of Rice's novel than we could dare to hope for) and Jean Rollin's poetic Vampire Chronicles. THE ADDICTION deserves inclusion in this list of greats, and may turn out to be Abel Ferara's masterpiece.

3 comments:

  1. Abel is one of my all time favorite directors and THE ADDICTION is one of his major works. The fact that it isn't available in the States right now is extremely irritating.
    I find everything about the film to be absolutely masterful...from Taylor's performance to the incredibly intellgent and probing script. Everytime I watch the film I find myself jotting down lines so I can think on them later...
    amazing film...it frustrates me to no end that so few have seen it and even fewer seem to appreciate how much of a masterpiece it is.

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  2. It really is a wonderful film, and it's a crying shame more folks have yet to see it. I think the UK DVD is now OOP. We really do need a special edition of this film. Thanks for your comments, Jeremy.

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  3. After King of NY, this is my fave Ferrara film (altho, his work on the pilot of ep. of CRIME STORY is tight!). Such an underrated film and one of THE best vampire films since... MARTIN. Nice article!

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