Friday, August 28, 2015
CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS (2008) &
NAPOLI, NAPOLI, NAPOLI (2009) - Abel Ferrara
In the interest of finishing up the Ferrara filmography, I watched a few of his location-based documentaries with "dramatic reenactments" interspersed. The first was about the Chelsea Hotel, then in the midst of a "new management" crisis. The other was about the mafia drenched city of Naples, which, judging from countless poliziotteschi films with "Napoli" in the title, has always a problem with crime. In both cases, Ferrara gets more interesting results when he just sticks to the facts. The documentary footage or interviews with non-celebrities telling their personal stories, longtime denizens of the Chelsea (including himself) or, in Napoli's case, its overcrowded prisons' many inmates. Where he lost me was the dramatic reenactments, which are especially forced and hard to stomach in Chelsea. Name actors recreate imagined scenes involving Sid and Nancy or Janis Joplin. I'll put it to you this way: Bijou Phillips plays Nancy Spungen. Are you buying that?
The reenactments in Napoli go down easier, if only because they're in another language (Italian). They don't have a lot of dialogue and feature actors you wouldn't otherwise recognize. It's mostly handheld, police stakeout type footage, and plays like a grungier Gomorrah or an old Fernando di Leo film mixed in between talking heads. Is it hard-hitting news that Naples is a depressed, crime-ridden municipality? Probably not. Ferrara isn't exactly David Simon, and his tendency is to stay on the surface of things rather than go systemically deep. There are some interesting, heartbreaking stories here and there, but the highlight definitely comes at the end, underneath the closing credits. The Dark Prince of Indie Cinema himself is onstage at one of the prison's playing an acoustic version of Schoolly D's "King of New York." It could just me, but there's something infinitely amusing in hearing Ferrara sing-speak the lines: "Cause all I care about is selling my lleyo / Makin' money like a nigga make mayo."