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New Times / Art

The following article was posted on April 23rd, 2014, in the New Times - Volume 28, Issue 39 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 28, Issue 39

Hipster saint: Take Two Live at The Palm screens 'Lenny'



All the hippest cineastes around these parts know that it’s worth rolling out of bed one Sunday every month for Take Two Live at The Palm, a program devoted to screenings of an eclectic range of classic and underappreciated films, hosted by Jim Dee and Bob Whiteford. They’ve got an extra hip one this time.

1974’s Lenny, directed by Bob Fosse and based on the stage play of the same name by Julian Barry (who adapted it for the screen), is a biographical account of the notorious “dirty” comic and free speech martyr, Lenny Bruce.

For those who don’t know, comedian Bruce was busted (and tried) several times for using obscene words on stage, but it was just as likely he was persecuted for his frank, funny, and defiant discussions about “subversive” ideas—race, sexuality, religion—in '50s and '60s America. As his legal troubles mounted, and his career sank, Bruce devoted his increasingly rare gigs to analyzing his trial transcripts from the stage. He was dead from a drug overdose at age 40, a sardonic example of his oft-quoted observation, “There’s nothing sadder than an old hipster.”

Lenny stars Dustin Hoffman as the comic and Valerie Perrine as his wife, Honey. Shot in black and white, the film intercuts scenes from Bruce’s life, documentary style interviews, and shots of him performing his controversial act onstage.

Fosse was largely known for his work as a stage and screen choreographer and director, and although Lenny is not a musical and has no dance sequences, it has the energy and movement of dance.

Hoffman, in the midst of his run of great ’70s film roles, captures Bruce’s dynamic blend of bebopper’s improvisational swing and wise-ass Jewish prophetic rage. Perrine, perhaps best known today for her role as Lex Luthor’s va-va-voom girfriend in the first two Superman movies from the ’80s, is terrific in her role as the vulnerable but tough Honey.

Although Lenny is not strictly out of circulation, it is out of print on DVD and is not often shown. The show starts at 12:30 p.m., but make sure to get there early for Jim and Bob’s always illuminating and entertaining introduction to the film, and be sure to stick around afterward for the Q-and-A.