Abel Ferrara

Active - 1979 - 2020  |   Born - Jul 19, 1951   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Thriller, Horror

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Independent New York filmmaker Abel Ferrara became best-known for his low-budget, shockingly violent films that explore the roughest parts of the Big Apple and the darkest reaches of the human soul, with films such as China Girl (1987) -- his unique version of Romeo and Juliet -- generating a devoted following. Ferrara was born in the Bronx, but spent most of his childhood in Peekskill, NY, where he met the two young men who would eventually become his primary screenwriter (Nicholas St. John) and occasional consultant (John McIntyre). As boys, they would play around with 8 mm cameras. In the mid-'70s, the three reunited and founded Navaron Films, where they produced an adult film. In 1979, they released their most notorious film, Driller Killer, for which Ferrara starred, edited, and wrote the songs under the pseudonym Jimmie Laine. In this movie, a young man goes berserk and begins killing vagrants with a portable power drill. Ferrara continued making low-budget shockers until the late '80s. In addition to such brutally violent fare, the "Me Decade" also found Ferrara also helming such television shows as Miami Vice and Crime Story. Switching to more mainstream (although hardly more subtle) films, including The King of New York (1990), Bad Lieutenant (1992), and Body Snatchers (1994) in the 1990s, the director successfully retained his stylistic edge while gaining a somewhat wider audience. Not surprisingly, this trio of films proved Ferrara's most successful run to date and the director became something of a hot property among indie stars. In 1995, his metaphorical exploration of vampirism, The Addiction, won an award at the Berlin Film Festival. Always controversial, Ferrara's 1996 crime drama The Funeral seemingly split his longtime fanbase down the middle with half heralding the film as a gritty masterpiece and others dismissing it as a pale attemot to recapture the success of King of New York. Despite a somewhat impressive cast which included Beatrice Dalle, Matthew Modine and Dennis Hopper, the director's 1996 effort The Blackout did little to win over detractors of The Funeral. In 1998 Ferrara made the unusual choice of adapting a novel by cyberpunk legend William Gibson for the screen, as New Rose Hotel, and though the results were mixed few would argue that it was any worse than previous attempts to bring his writings to the screen (see 1995's Johnny Mnemonic). When Ferrara's muddled 2001 effort 'R X Mas failed to live up to the hype as his big comeback film, audience were widely left to wonder whether courting the mainstream had forever tainted Ferrara's formerly potent vision.

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