Abel Ferrara

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Abel Ferrara
Abel Ferrara Cannes 2017.jpg
Abel Ferrara at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival
Born (1951-07-19) July 19, 1951 (age 71)
The Bronx, New York City, U.S.
Other namesJimmy Boy L, Jimmy Laine
OccupationDirector, screenwriter, actor, producer, editor, cinematographer
Years active1971–present
Nancy Ferrara
(m. 1982, divorced)

Cristina Chiriac

Abel Ferrara (born July 19, 1951)[1] is an American filmmaker, known for the provocative and often controversial content in his movies and his use of neo-noir imagery and gritty urban settings. A long-time independent filmmaker, some of his best known movies include Ms .45 (1981), King of New York (1990), Bad Lieutenant (1992) and The Funeral (1996).

Early life[edit]

Ferrara was born in the Bronx of Italian and Irish descent.[2] He was raised Catholic, which subsequently influenced much of his work.[3] At 8 years old, he moved to Peekskill in Westchester County, New York, where he started making movies at Rockland Community College.[4] Later, he attended the film conservatory at SUNY Purchase, where he directed several short films.[5]


Early work[edit]

Ferrara studied at the San Francisco Art Institute; one of his teachers there was the famous avant-garde director Rosa von Praunheim. In the early 1970s, while still in art school, Ferrara directed a number of independently produced short films which included The Hold Up and Could This Be Love. Finding himself out of work after leaving film school in 1976, Ferrara directed his first feature film which was an adult pornographic film titled, 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy, using a pseudonym.[6] Starring with his then-girlfriend, he recalled having to step in front of the camera for one scene to perform in a hardcore sex scene: "It's bad enough paying a guy $200 to fuck your girlfriend, then he can't get it up."[7]

Ferrara first drew a cult following with his second feature film, a grindhouse movie titled The Driller Killer (1979), an urban slasher film about an artist (played by the director himself) who goes on a killing spree with a power drill. In the United Kingdom, the movie made it on a list of "video nasties" created by moral crusaders that led to prosecutions under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and to the passing of new legislation which forced all video releases to appear before the British Board of Film Classification for rating.[8]

The director's next feature was Ms .45 (1981), a "rape revenge" movie about a mute garment worker turned murderer (Zoë Tamerlis). Reviewers called it "a provocative, disreputable movie, well worth seeing."[9]


In 1984, Ferrara was hired to direct Fear City, starring Melanie Griffith, Billy Dee Williams, Rae Dawn Chong and María Conchita Alonso. When a "kung fu slasher" stalks and murders young women who work in a seedy Times Square strip club, a disgraced boxer portrayed by Tom Berenger uses his fighting skills to defeat the killer.[10]

Ferrara worked on two Michael Mann-produced television series, directing the two-hour pilot for Crime Story (aired September 18, 1986), starring Dennis Farina,[11] and two episodes of the series Miami Vice.[12]

King of New York (1990) stars Christopher Walken as gangster Frank White, Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, David Caruso and Giancarlo Esposito. The movie received overall mixed reviews, but Ferrara was praised for his strong command of mood and style. Critic Roger Ebert wrote, "What Ferrara needs for his next film is a sound screenplay."[13]

Bad Lieutenant (1992) credits Ferrara and actress Zoë Tamerlis, who plays the woman who helps the Lieutenant freebase heroin in the movie, as co-writers of the script, but Tamerlis claimed that she wrote it alone.[14][15] Bad Lieutenant received Spirit Awards nominations for Best Director and Best Actor, and despite its controversial content, the movie was lauded by critics. Director Martin Scorsese named it one of his top 10 films of the 1990s.[16]

In 1993, Ferrara was hired for two Hollywood studio movies: another remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, titled Body Snatchers (1993), for Warner Bros.; and Dangerous Game (1993), starring Keitel and Madonna, for MGM.

In the mid-1990s Ferrara directed two well-received independent movies: The Addiction (1995),[17] photographed in black-and-white, stars Lili Taylor as a philosophy student who succumbs to a vampire as she studies the problem of evil and philosophical pedagogy, represented by the most violent events of the 20th century. The movie also features Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco, Kathryn Erbe and Michael Imperioli. It was co-produced by Russell Simmons.

The Funeral (1996),[18] starring Walken, Sciorra, Chris Penn, Isabella Rossellini, Benicio del Toro, Vincent Gallo and Gretchen Mol, was nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards including Best Director.

Following the success of The Funeral, Ferrara had an infamous interview with Conan O'Brien on October 23, 1996. Ferrara was believed to be intoxicated and struggled through the interview, often slurring and covering his face as well as waving around a cigarette. O'Brien would later state that Ferrara was his "worst guest ever".[19] Eventually, O'Brien revealed to Ferrara's frequent collaborator Willem Dafoe that Ferrara "ran away" and that the segment producer had to "run down the street" to catch him and bring him back to the set. Dafoe said to O'Brien, "You did your best...and so did he!"

Later career[edit]

After making The Blackout (1997) with Matthew Modine and Dennis Hopper, he contributed to the omnibus television movie Subway Stories. Ferrara then made New Rose Hotel (1998), which reunited him with Christopher Walken.

Ferrara in 2008.

Ferrara returned three years later with 'R Xmas (2001), which starred Drea de Matteo and Ice-T. He recorded commentaries for Driller Killer[20] and King of New York[21] and made Mary (2005), a religious-themed multi-plot movie starring Juliette Binoche, Matthew Modine, Forest Whitaker, Heather Graham, Marion Cotillard, and Stefania Rocca. Mary premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2005. It swept the awards ceremony, garnering the Grand Jury Prize, SIGNIS Award and two others. It was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.[22]

In 2007, Ferrara directed Go Go Tales a comedy with Modine, Bob Hoskins and Willem Dafoe that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival but was not shown in the United States until a special screening at the Anthology Film Archives in 2011.[23]

In 2009, Jekyll and Hyde was set to star Forest Whitaker and 50 Cent. After disagreements with Warner Bros., the movie was shelved in 2010.[24]

In 2009, Napoli, Napoli, Napoli premiered out of competition at the 66th Venice International Film Festival.[25] The docudrama received little attention and poor reviews but Werner Herzog's reboot Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was selected for competition at the prestigious festival. Asked about the Herzog film, Ferrara was quoted widely saying "I wish these people die in hell."[26]

In September 2011, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, starring Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh, premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival.[27]

Ferrara's Welcome to New York, a fictionalized version of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case starring Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset, was released on video on demand in 2014.[28][29] Ferrara's Pasolini (2014) about the titular Italian director stars Willem Dafoe.[30]

With Siberia, Ferrara and Dafoe collaborated for a sixth time in a movie. Inspired by Carl Jung's The Red Book, the script was written by Ferrara and Chris Zois.[31][32]

Personal life[edit]

Ferrara is married to Cristina Chiriac and they have a daughter, Anna.[33][34][35] He was previously married to Nancy Ferrara.[36] Ferrara has two adopted children: Endira and Lucy.[37][38] He was also in a relationship with actress Shanyn Leigh.[39][40]

Ferrara lives in Rome, Italy.[41] He moved there following the 9/11 attacks because it was easier for him to find financing for his movies in Europe.[42]

Raised Catholic, Ferrara started describing himself as Buddhist in 2007.[43] When asked if he had converted, Ferrara responded,

It’s not a conversion, you’re not a card-carrying Catholic, you’re brought up Italian, so you’re brought up with those images. All the great art is financed by the Church so they have a monopoly on the paintings, and they’re powerful images, the whole nine yards of it. But Jesus was a living man, and so were Buddha and Muhammad. These three guys changed the fucking world, with their passion and love of other human beings. All these guys had was their word, and they came from fucking nowhere. I’m not saying Nazareth is nowhere – I’m sure Jesus came from a very cool neighbourhood.

— Abel Ferrara[44]

Ferrara said in 2020 that Buddhism "is a practice for me, not a religion."[45]


Artists and filmmakers who influenced Ferrara's work include "the Stones and Dylan...DaVinci, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen and all of the great New York film makers."[46] He has also credited Pier Paolo Pasolini and Rainer Werner Fassbinder as influences.[47][48][49]


Year Film Director Writer Actor Notes
1971 Nicky's Film Yes Yes Short film
1972 The Hold Up Yes Yes Yes Short film
1973 Could It Be Love Yes Yes Short film
1976 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy Yes Yes Pornographic film
Credited as Jimmy Boy L.
1977 Not Guilty: For Keith Richards Yes Short documentary film
1979 The Driller Killer Yes Yes Role: Reno
Performance credited as Jimmy Laine
1981 Ms .45 Yes Yes Role: 1st rapist
Performance credited as Jimmy Laine
1984 Fear City Yes
1986 The Gladiator Yes Television film
Crime Story Yes Television pilot
1987 China Girl Yes
1988 The Loner Yes Television pilot
1989 Cat Chaser Yes
1990 King of New York Yes
1992 Bad Lieutenant Yes Yes
1993 Body Snatchers Yes Yes
Dangerous Game Yes
1995 The Addiction Yes
1996 Mylène Farmer: California Yes Music video
The Funeral Yes
1997 The Blackout Yes Yes
Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground Yes Television film
Segment "Love on the A Train"
1998 New Rose Hotel Yes Yes
1999 Ben Folds Five: Don't Change Your Plans Yes Music video
2001 'R Xmas Yes Yes
2004 Abenaa: "Rain" Yes Yes Music video
2005 Mary Yes Yes
2006 Exes Yes Role: Cain
2007 Go Go Tales Yes Yes
2008 Chelsea on the Rocks Yes Yes Documentary film
2009 Napoli Napoli Napoli Yes Yes Documentary film
Daddy Longlegs Yes Role: Robber
2010 Mulberry St. Yes Documentary film
OneDreamRush: Dream Piece Yes Short film
2011 4:44 Last Day on Earth Yes Yes
2012 Pizza Connection Yes Web series
No Saints Yes Short film
My Big-Assed Mother Yes Role: Charles Bukowski
Short film
2014 Welcome to New York Yes Yes
Pasolini Yes Yes [50]
Don Peyote Yes Role: Taxi cab driver
2016 Sculpt Yes
2017 Black Butterfly Yes Role: Pat
Alive in France Yes Yes Yes Documentary film
Piazza Vittorio Yes Yes Documentary film[51]
Hans Yes Yes Short film
2018 Buon Lavoro Yes [52]
Talking with the Vampires Yes Yes Yes Short documentary film[53]
2019 The Projectionist Yes Yes Documentary film[54]
Tommaso Yes Yes
2020 Siberia Yes Yes
Sportin' Life Yes Yes Yes Documentary film[55]
2021 Zeros and Ones Yes Yes
2022 Padre Pio Yes Yes Post-production

Recurring collaborators[edit]

Ferrara has recast many of the same actors in his movies, most notably Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe.[56] Other actors he has recast include Annabella Sciorra and Matthew Modine as well as character actors such as Victor Argo, Paul Calderón and Giancarlo Esposito.[57] David Caruso is another one of Ferrara's frequent film collaborators.[58] Ms .45 (1981) star Zoë Lund collaborated with Ferrara again on Bad Lieutenant (1992), which she co-wrote.[59] Gretchen Mol has worked with Ferrara twice.[60] Forest Whitaker starred in Ferrara's movies Mary (2005) and Body Snatchers (1993).[61]

Beginning with The Driller Killer in 1979 through The Projectionist in 2019, Ferrara most frequently works with Ken Kelsch as his cinematographer.[62]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Nominated work Award Result Ref
1993 Body Snatchers Palme d'Or Nominated
1993 Bad Lieutenant Independent Spirit Award for Best Director Nominated
1995 The Addiction Golden Berlin Bear Nominated
1996 The Funeral Independent Spirit Award for Best Director Nominated
1998 The Blackout Worst Director - Yoga Awards Won [63]
2001 R' Xmas Un Certain Regard Nominated


  1. ^ Nicole Brenez, Abel Ferrara, University of Illinois Press, 2007 page 2
  2. ^ Goldstein, Patrick (October 28, 1990). "MOVIES The Prince of Darkness Director Abel Ferrara practices a kind of gonzo filmmaking, and his violent vision isn't a particularly popular one in Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  3. ^ Lim, Dennis (October 12, 2008). "Struggling With Faith and Gentrification". The New York Times. Retrieved April 23, 2010.
  4. ^ "'Bad Lieutenant' filmmaker Abel Ferrara got his start at Rockland Community College". lohud.com. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  5. ^ Dawson, Nick (October 18, 2008). "Abel Ferrara, Mary". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  6. ^ Paszylk, Bartlomiej (March 9, 2009). "The Driller Killer". The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: An Historical Survey. McFarland. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-7864-3695-8.
  7. ^ "Abel Ferrara: 'I made Scarface look like Mary Poppins'". The Guardian (Interview). August 5, 2010. Retrieved April 15, 2012.
  8. ^ "Video Nasties". bbfc.co.uk. British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  9. ^ "Ms .45 (2015), directed by Abel Ferrara | Film review". timeout.com. August 22, 2015. Archived from the original on August 22, 2015. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  10. ^ "Fear City (1984)", Rotten Tomatoes, retrieved December 4, 2019
  11. ^ "Crime Story. 1986. Directed by Abel Ferrara". MOMA.org. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  12. ^ "Abel Ferrara Interview". artinterviews.com. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger. "King Of New York Movie Review (1990)". rogerebert.com. Roger Ebert. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  14. ^ Zoe Tamerlis on the script of "Bad Lieutenant", archived from the original on December 12, 2021, retrieved September 9, 2019 – via YouTube
  15. ^ "13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant". mentalfloss.com. November 20, 2017. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  16. ^ Roger Ebert & The Movies (show #1426), 26 February 2000. Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved on 2012-04-15.
  17. ^ "The Addiction (1995): Awards". Allmovie.com. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  18. ^ "The Funeral (1996)". Allmovie.com. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  19. ^ "Conan O'Brien Names Director Abel Ferrara His Worst Guest in 25 Years — Here's Why". December 3, 2018.
  20. ^ Righelato, Rowan (November 30, 2016). "The Driller Killer and the humanist behind the blood and sickening crunch". The Guardian. Retrieved March 24, 2022.
  21. ^ Mackie, Rob (September 18, 2008). "DVD review: King of New York SE". The Guardian. Retrieved March 24, 2022.
  22. ^ "2005 TIFF Archives (10 posts)". bombippy.com. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
  23. ^ Dargis, Manohla (January 6, 2011). "'Go Go Tales' With Willem Dafoe - Review". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  24. ^ Ferrara, Abel (August 5, 2010). "Abel Ferrara: 'I made Scarface look like Mary Poppins'". The Guardian. Interviewed by Andrew Purcell. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  25. ^ "Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant joins Venice film festival contenders". the Guardian. July 30, 2009. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  26. ^ Brown, Mark (July 30, 2009). "Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant joins Venice film festival contenders". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  27. ^ "Venezia 68: International competition of feature films". Venice. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  28. ^ Donadio, Rachel (May 18, 2014). "Cannes Film Festival: Strauss-Kahn Film Under Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  29. ^ Child, Ben (February 6, 2012). "Gerard Depardieu to star in film inspired by Dominique Strauss-Kahn". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
  30. ^ "Director Abel Ferrara on Mysterious 1975 Death of Pier Paolo Pasolini: 'I Know Who Killed Him'". The Hollywood Reporter. March 28, 2014. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  31. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (May 14, 2015). "He's Back! Abel Ferrara To Launch Willem Dafoe-Starrer 'Siberia' On Croisette". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 20, 2015.
  32. ^ Rife, Katie (May 14, 2015). "Get Involved, Internet: Help Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe make a movie about dreams". The A.V. Club. Retrieved June 20, 2015.
  33. ^ Vlessing, Etan (January 21, 2020). "Abel Ferrara's 'Tommaso,' 'The Projectionist' Land at Kino Lorber (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 29, 2020.
  34. ^ Shoard, Catherine (May 18, 2015). "Abel Ferrera turns to Kickstarter: 'I'm gonna hurt people with this film'". The Guardian. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  35. ^ Coleman, Oli (October 31, 2017). "Abel Ferarra moved to Italy for a girl he knocked up". Page Six. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  36. ^ Maslin, Janet (November 19, 1993). "Review/Film; A Movie Within a Movie, With a Demure Madonna". The New York Times. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  37. ^ "Abel Ferrara Biography (1952?-)". Film Reference. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  38. ^ Hoban, Phoebe (February 1, 1993). "Raising Cain". New York. Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  39. ^ Macnab, Geoffrey (March 3, 2012). "Willem Dafoe: 'I have a charmed life'". The Independent. Archived from the original on March 5, 2012. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  40. ^ Hoberman, J. (March 19, 2012). "Home for the End of Days". New York. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  41. ^ Righelato, Rowan (September 11, 2015). "Abel Ferrara: 'Pasolini's death is not some kind of fictional event'". The Guardian. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  42. ^ Lim, Dennis (October 10, 2008). "Struggling With Faith and Gentrification". The New York Times. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  43. ^ Shoard, Catherine (May 23, 2014). "Abel Ferrara at Cannes: 'You gotta be careful what you say … but I'm not'". The Guardian. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  44. ^ Gray, Carmen (November 12, 2014). "The spiritual side of Abel Ferrara". Dazed.
  45. ^ Bukuras, Joe (August 30, 2022). "From porn to 'Padre Pio': Meet the director who felt drawn to tell the saint's story". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved September 23, 2022.
  46. ^ "Abel Ferrara Interview". www.artinterviews.com. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  47. ^ cryptekeeper (December 3, 2012). "Cryptekeeper 041 Abel Ferrara/4H44 dernier jour sur terre". Archived from the original on December 12, 2021 – via YouTube.
  48. ^ Kasman, Daniel (June 7, 2014). "The Pursuit of Freedom: Abel Ferrara Discusses "Welcome to New York"". Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  49. ^ Carli, Vittorio. "Abel Ferrara Interview". Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  50. ^ Hopewell, John (August 16, 2013). "Ferrara, Dafoe Re-team for 'Pasolini'". Variety. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  51. ^ Cox, Gordon (August 23, 2017). "Vanessa Redgrave, Alex Gibney, Griffin Dunne Documentaries Join New York Film Festival Slate (EXCLUSIVE)".
  52. ^ "Home - Buon Lavoro - Il film". Buon Lavoro - Il film.
  53. ^ Murthi, Vikram (December 19, 2016). "Isabelle Huppert, Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe Star in Abel Ferrara's New Film 'Siberia'". IndieWire. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  54. ^ Bramesco, Charles (April 23, 2019). "he Projectionist review – Abel Ferrara's wistful, indulgent ode to cinema". The Guardian. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
  55. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (July 28, 2020). "Venice Film Festival 2020: Competition Light On Studios, Strong On Global Arthouse & Women Directors – Full List". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 1, 2020.
  56. ^ Ruilova, Aïda (February 13, 2013). "Abel Ferrara". Interview.
  57. ^ Dee, Jake (January 7, 2014). "Dissecting Director Abel Ferrara!".
  58. ^ "Indie Filmmaker Abel Ferrara Will Bring Short Eyes Back to Broadway". February 24, 2010.
  59. ^ Vestby, Ethan (December 9, 2013). "Abel Ferrara On Artistic Freedom, Collaboration, 'Ms. 45,' Pier Paolo Pasolini & More". thefilmstage.com.
  60. ^ Hillis, Aaron (February 26, 2009). "Gretchen Mol Indulges in "An American Affair"". Ifc.com.
  61. ^ Nastasi, Alison (19 November 2009). "Abel Ferrara's 'Jekyll and Hyde' Coming Soon From Warner Bros". Moviefone. Archived from the original on 10 December 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  62. ^ Louison, Evan (May 22, 2019). ""Filmmaking is Like Combat — 90% Boredom, 5% Panic and 5% Terror": Ken Kelsch on Four Decades as a Cinematographer". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  63. ^ "1998 (novena edición) : Los Catacric y los YoGa". Retrieved September 9, 2019.

External links[edit]