Abel Ferrara has never played by the rules. Since making his feature filmmaking debut in 1976 with the adult film 9 Lives of a Wet Pussycat (credited as director under the pseudonym Jimmy Boy L, while also starring in the film), the director has made his name as his own artist.
Ferrara landed himself on the UK’s list of ‘video nasties’ with his second feature, the grindhouse slasher flick The Driller Killer, and followed that up with the provocative rape revenge film Ms. 45, in which Zoë Lund would enact bloody havoc while dressed as a nun. More commercial success would come in later years, with films including King of New York and Bad Lieutenant, but just when it seemed as though Ferrara might be turning over a slightly mainstream new leaf, he veered off in an even more anti-Hollywood direction.
You can almost pinpoint the moment where he shifts. His 1998 cyberpunk erotic drama, New Rose Hotel, takes a dramatic left turn with an extensive final act that breaks all narrative convention, mystifying and entrancing audiences. Since then, Ferrara has pushed further outside the realm of the norm; sobriety and his conversion to Buddhism having facilitated work of an increasingly existential and avant-garde variety.
The Bronx-born filmmaker found, upon relocating to Rome in the early 21st century, that he could work there without interference from studios who seek to warp his artistry for their own designs. As Ferrara puts it, making movies has “always been positive… well, when we’re not being f—ked with”. That bluntness and passion for the art has led to a longstanding partnership with Willem Dafoe, which began on New Rose Hotel and has carried on through films including Pasolini, Tommaso and Siberia, the latter released earlier this year after premiering at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival.