Controversial director Abel Ferrara has blasted and confounded cinema-goers in the past with challenging but breathtaking works. His films chart religious/psychological battles with the degeneration of corrupt societies, cultures and characters, via acts of extreme violence and sexual depravity.
Ferrara’s body includes: Bad Lieutenant, King of New York, MS. 45 and The Driller Killer. All provocative, divisive yet astounding works, widely considered cult classics. His recent two films to be released in the UK (Welcome To New York and Pasolini) are among the Bronx director’s best, revealing an artist bravely embracing new styles and concepts into his career winter years, while refusing to blunt the edge that makes his work so intoxicating.
HEYUGUYS caught up with Ferrara recently to talk about The Addiction. This black and white, mid-nineties allegorical vampire parable starring Lili Taylor, Christopher Walken and Annabella Sciorra, which is about to make its UK Blu-ray/ 4K restoration debut from Arrow Video.
Its character study/story of a student in the throes of a seemingly biological alteration is more than just a conventional horror flick. Ferrara spoke to us about the spiritual conflicts which shape its characters, his love/hate relationship with New York City and what it’s like working in and out of the studio system.
HEYUGUYS: The Addiction seems to examine the darker side of people and history, more so than vampires in the traditional sense of bats, capes and castles. Why did you feel that exploring humanity in this specific way was important in the context of vampire film?
ABEL FERRARA: To me The Addiction is a character film. The story of a student going through a whole spiritual reformation. The fact that she’s also a vampire just comes with the territory, it’s just part of the whole movie. I wasn’t looking at it as a vampire movie. Although obviously it is a vampire movie.
When The Addiction was first released in America in 1995, the vampire movie was in a strange place. Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Vampire in Brooklyn came out in the same year. You didn’t consciously try and subvert the subgenre?
No, I wasn’t interested. I was never a big vampire fan. Chris Walken was a big vampire fan and writer Nicky St. John was a big vampire fan. I was never here or there on it, so I didn’t get into it, I just got into the movie making side. But, saying that, the vampire story is one that goes back into every different culture, that’s the truly scary part of it. Every culture and every part of the world, somewhere there’s that tale, that’s told. It’s the same story, so that’s a scary concept.
The Addiction presented vampirism more as a disease than a supernatural curse.
I don’t think it’s a curse or a disease. I think it’s a choice.
There’s a lot of that kind of duality and spiritual conflict in your films: religious divergences and people wrestling with beliefs. Does that stem from your personal views?
I think it stems from writer Nick St. John’s beliefs. He’s obviously Catholic so it’s coming from that perspective. There’s temptation, personal choice, redemption, resurrection. These things are not metaphors. He is a believer.
Do you share those beliefs or do they resonate with you in a different way?
I share it in a different kind of way because I am a Buddhist. On a spiritual level I agree with him. Whether I believe in God, the Father, sitting in heaven and Jesus sitting on his right and his holy ghost is neither here nor there. I believe that you’re responsible for your actions and those right actions create other right actions.
Your films seem to, in a way, chart that process; where characters go head to head with personal demons. Chris Penn in The Funeral, Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant and in Welcome To New York too with Gerard Depardieu, where you also tapped into a kind of animal capitalism and corruption of self by greed and wealth.
Well, man is an animal. What is he? What are you? You’re not this enlightened, potential body. We are evolving, but from what?
And into what?
Yeah right. Exactly.
New York also has quite a commanding presence in The Addiction and most of your films. Not just as a backdrop but a force that shapes the characters. You were born in the Bronx. Do you still the have the same relationship with the city?
New York now? I’ve been living in Italy for the last four years on a day to day level so I don’t feel like New York is home at all. It’s where I came from and where I lived for a long, long period of my life. It was my home when I was shooting The Addiction, that’s for sure. We basically shot the film in our neighbourhood where we lived and at NYU, the university.
You don’t like going back there?
I don’t like to go back to New York, no. I like to film there, but I’m not crazy on it. New York University, is like the real vampire in the movie, it’s taken over half the city. It’s a land grab bro, y’know. Manhattan became a land grab. It’s all real estate, real estate is God. And now, y’know, the real estate guy is the president, and that’s what it’s all about, like; “Okay, everybody’s gotta live somewhere with a roof over their head so rip them off,” and for every penny they can grab. Or so “New York is something, get the whole world to come here, but with apartments that people were once paying five hundred for are now paying five thousand.” What about normal people, what about regular people? Does anybody give a fuck about them? Everybody wants to go to New York but what about the people from New York, where the fuck did they all go?
A similar sort of thing is happening in London with price hikes and gentrification.
Yeah well that’s where they learned how to do it! They did it there first (laughs)! First stop was London and then they said ok “let’s do this to New York”.
You have dipped in and out of Hollywood and the studio system over the years but always operate artistically, equally as effectively out of it. Are you more comfortable out of Hollywood and mainstream cinema or would you like to be a part of it?
I lived and worked in Hollywood. I’m in the film business and if you’re in the film business you’re in Hollywood, no matter where you go. You can’t escape Hollywood. It’s the business. We’re trying, but you never really leave the mother ship. You’re always going to have some contact.
Your next film, Siberia, is “an exploration into the language of dreams”. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Yeah, I think we’re finally making it, I hope. It’s kind of like a Ulysses type of journey from home, back home, with adult Alice in Wonderland kind of events. But also, at the same time, it’s a documentary about Willem Dafoe. So if you can imagine all those elements in one movie, that’s where we’re starting from.
Sounds amazing. And Nic Cage is involved too, is that right?
Yeah. I hope he’s going to be in it.
A lot of your films still haven’t been released in the UK. I think I bought my MS. 45 Blu-ray from Spain. Can we expect to see more new/ re-releases?
My other films are out there man. You can find ’em, just Youtube ’em up. They’re somewhere, just track ’em down. MS. 45 came out again in the States recently. They did a re-release of that. We did the same thing as that as we did with The Addiction.
It’s good to see The Addiction being released. What else can we expect to see on the disc?
We did a new documentary: a twenty five minute little thing. Went back to interview Lili Taylor and Chris Walken which is gonna be in the bonus pack or whatever they call it. You’ll have to ask the other guys what’s on the rest of it.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today Abel.
Thank you. Much appreciated.
THE ADDICTION is released on 4K Blu-ray on 25th June from Arrow Video