Friday, May 27, 2011

#294. Lenny (1974)

Directed By: Bob Fosse

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Valerie Perrine, Jan Miner

Tag line: "Lenny's Time Has Finally Come"

Trivia:  Singer Neil Diamond was originally selected to play Lenny, but declined the role

British author Horace Walpole once wrote, “The world is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think”. For comedian Lenny Bruce, whose life was plagued by censorship, legal battles and drug addictions, there was no differentiating between the two. In him, comedy and tragedy existed as one. 

Based on Julian Barry’s Broadway play, director Bob Fosse’s Lenny is the story of Lenny Bruce (Dustin Hoffman), perhaps the single most influential stand-up comedian of his, or indeed any generation. The film follows Lenny from this early days in the Catskills, working as a bit comic in strip joints and night clubs, right up to the height of his popularity, when his profanity-laced take on politics, society and everyday life brought him a level of notoriety most performers could only dream of. Unfortunately, fame would also bring it share of hardships as well. With a style considered far too controversial for early 1960’s America, Bruce was arrested several times for obscenity, leading to a series of court battles that would put just as strong a drain on his spirit as they would his bank account. In conjunction with his legal woes, Lenny also takes us behind the scenes, outlining the comedian's tumultuous personal life, including his marriage to former stripper Honey Harlow (Valerie Perrine) and his well-publicized drug problems, which would ultimately cost him his life in August of 1966, when Lenny Bruce was found dead in his home, the victim of an accidental overdose. 

Ultimately, it's this combination of public image and private turmoil that makes Lenny such an impressive cinematic accomplishment. When on-stage, Bruce was a dynamo of creativity, unleashing observations that were as poignant as they were hilarious, and Dustin Hoffman does a masterful job of harnessing the great comic's energy. But the film's real power is in the moments that take place away from the spotlight, delving into the drama that played out behind closed doors. With magnificent performances from all of the leads, Lenny shies away from nothing, becoming much more than your run-of-the-mill biopic. 

In the end, it was Lenny Bruce himself who provided his own epitaph, stating he owed everything to “the existence of segregation, violence, despair, disease and injustice”. By attacking such issues at a time when nobody else was doing so, and in a way nobody else dared, Lenny Bruce captured the attention of the entire world, and in the end, it was more than he could handle.

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