The Greatest Movie Almost, Sorta Made

The Greatest Movie Almost, Sorta Made

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because greatness will out.

By Eugene S. Robinson

In a water taxi in Venice, musician, writer and all-around scene-meister Pierpaolo Capovilla — think an Italian Nick Cave — brings him up first. “I just did a TV show with Abel Ferrara,” Capovilla says over the boatside lap and slap of water. “Very nice guy, but sad what’s happening with him.”

And what precisely is happening with Ferrara?

With a film career that goes back to the early ’70s, the almost-65-year-old Ferrara — far from wanting to retire, and with a passel of great and dark cinema to his credit — is struggling to get a new movie made. An almost impossible struggle, based on the fact that the movie, Siberia (loosely based on Jung’s completely hallucinatory The Red Book), has been described as experimental, features a handful of widely disparate locations and, despite starring Willem Dafoe, may not, by Ferrara’s own claims, be backer-friendly. “I’m gonna hurt people with this film,” he says.

Ferrara’s movie is a svelte 54 minutes of shaggy-dog tale-telling about the priest with the bleeding palms and the ability to read souls.

“Well, not impossible, but not easy,” says Ferrara from his place in Rome. “I certainly miss the films of [John] Waters and [David] Lynch and a host of others who have something to offer but not enough masochism to go through the financing side of this.” A masochism that had Ferrara trying crowdfunding via Kickstarter, which, after the dust had settled from his well-publicized struggles with IFC, he figured was better than the old way. Following a pretty healthy run of interest, 176 people had chipped in $18,725 of the $500,000 the director had requested. This after his 2014 take on French politician and alleged rapist Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Welcome to New York, was shown off the beaten path at the Cannes Film Festival and Strauss-Kahn threatened legal action. 


“For me, it has always been tough,” Ferrara says. “Some periods tougher than others, and this is one of those periods, but I have always been fatalistic about ever getting anything made right, and so when it happens, I view them all as miracles.” Miracles that have seen more than 30 films, from the transgressive tale of a drug-fueled homicide detective, played by Harvey Keitel, investigating a rape in Bad Lieutenant to the grind-house high points Ms. 45 and The Driller Killer, along with more mainstream flicks like Body Snatchers (a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Ferrara is no punk or pushover, and he’s certainly not new to the rodeo.

So, this Irish-Italian native New Yorker beat it back to Rome with his Russian wife and their young daughter, where he made a compelling entry in the BOATS (Based on a True Story) series, Searching for Padre Pio, about Padre Pio da Pietrelcina. Saint Pio’s stock in trade? He was a stigmatic: His palms bled enough for him to be both beatified and, in 2002, 34 years after his death, canonized by Pope John Paul II. Ferrara’s movie is a svelte 54 minutes of shaggy-dog tale-telling about the priest with the bleeding palms and the ability to read souls. 

Despite the rumors that the funding difficulties are connected to Ferrara’s (probably) past penchant for confusing film cash for party cash and his not living in Los Angeles or at the very least in New York, Ferrara shoots all of that down. “I feel like we are filming our reality, and obviously the lifestyle and the place is going to change it, but living in Rome really is no different than moving from Union Square to Mulberry Street and the Lower East Side,” he says. “It’s another world to explore and be sensitive to.”

Or as Tobby Holzinger, an Austrian casting director who has worked with Ferrara, puts it, “Scorsese said Bad Lieutenant was one of the top 10 movies of the 1990s. Funding or no funding, the man [Ferrara] is worth 100 Michael Bays. And if you’re asking me? Siberia should be made tomorrow.”