The Set of 400: #236 – My Favorite Public Indecency

Today! Because sometimes things don’t work out and you never understand why –

Lenny (1974)

Directed by Bob Fosse

Starring Dustin Hoffman (x2), Valerie Perrine (x2), Guy Rennie, Gary Morton, Jan Miner, Stanley Beck, Michele Yonge, Rashel Novikoff, Bob Fosse

Bob Fosse’s towering, time-jumping, narratively-broken biography of comic Lenny Bruce is an absolutely gorgeous black-and-white, free-form exploration of the legendary stand-up’s rise to prominence amidst serious drug and legal problems, alongside his fascinating, destructive marriage. The jumps from documentary style interviews between Fosse and the characters of Bruce’s wife, agent, mother, etc., recreated club footage, and often contentious home life/backstage drama weave a hypnotic path through his life, resembling great jazz music, or really, an improv heavy Lenny Bruce routine (Huh! Probably the plan all along!).

Hoffman and Perrine give devastating, raw performances as Lenny and Honey, battling their respective demons and each other, with wonderfully naked emotion – oftentimes literally. Spanning nearly two decades at the end of Bruce’s life, we watch them go from newlywed minor comic/emcee and stripper to drug-addled double act to battling divorcees to convicts, often bouncing between periods in their lives and after. Bruce’s downfall, brought about by the mores of the day, is brought into stark relief in this broken structure, showing how he was progressively undone by the arrests and the pressure as it mounted over the years. His chaotic, loopy routine in Chicago – filmed in one extended take – encapsulates the self destruction of a pioneer worn down by years of narrow minded persecution.

This movie put me on a pretty serious Lenny Bruce kick in college – his live albums are little tough to relate to now, they are pretty dated to the times he performed in, but the speed and aggressiveness of his comedy is revolutionary. More interesting to me was his autobiography How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, published the year before his death, which manages to expound on his cultural beliefs – largely touched on in the film – while also recounting his life story. Worth a read!

Wherever fine books are sold (i.e. the internet)!

Fosse’s directing is first rate in this follow-up to his Oscar winning work on Cabaret, and was nominated again here, as were Hoffman, Perrine, Julian Barry for his adaptation of his play, the Cinematography, and Best Picture. 1974 was a beast for movies, though, so it didn’t manage a win, nor at the Globes where it was up for Picture, Actor, and Actress. It may be small consolation, but I think a Best On-Screen Depiction of Pleurisy award is warranted. You don’t see pleurisy films too often! Be sure to get your lungs checked, folks!

Hoffman and Perrine join the Two-Timers after their great respective roles as Ben Braddock in #311 The Graduate and Miss Teschmacher in #305 Superman. And yes, Dustin Hoffman has some allegations out there, about his inappropriate behavior during a Broadway run of Death of a Salesman some years ago, and yes, I felt compelled to add that in here. Does it detract from my enjoyment of this movie? Not really, but I also didn’t want to let it go unannounced, which I suspect I did back in #311. Sorry about that. So, spotlight to the great Valerie Perrine!

“Miss Teschmacher!”

Coming tomorrow! He’s just a kid, no older than my son –

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