Abel Ferrara
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Abel Ferrara
Abel Ferrara
Abel Ferrara Cannes 2017.jpg
Abel Ferrara at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival
Born (1951-07-19) July 19, 1951 (age 69)
The Bronx, New York City, U.S.
Other namesJimmy Boy L, Jimmy Laine
OccupationDirector, screenwriter, actor, producer, editor, cinematographer
Years active1971-present
Nancy Ferrara (m.1982, divorced)
Christina Chiriac

Abel Ferrara (born July 19, 1951)[1] is an American filmmaker, known for the provocative and often controversial content in his movies, his use of neo-noir imagery and gritty urban settings. A long-time independent filmmaker, some of his best known movies include Ms .45 (1981), King of New York (1990), Bad Lieutenant (1992) and The Funeral (1996).

Early life

Ferrara was born in the Bronx of Italian and Irish descent.[2] He was raised Catholic, which had a later effect on much of his work.[3] At 8 years old, he moved to Peekskill in Westchester County, New York, where he started making movies at Rockland Community College.[4] Later, he attended the film conservatory at SUNY Purchase, where he directed several short films.[5]


Early work

Finding himself out of work after film school in 1976, Ferrara directed a pornographic film, 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy, using a pseudonym.[6] Starring with his then-girlfriend, he recalled having to step in front of the camera for one scene to perform in a hardcore sex scene: "It's bad enough paying a guy $200 to fuck your girlfriend, then he can't get it up."[7]

Ferrara first drew a cult audience with his grindhouse movie The Driller Killer (1979), an urban slasher film about an artist (played by the director himself) who goes on a killing spree with a power drill. In the United Kingdom, the movie made it on a list of "video nasties" created by moral crusaders that led to prosecutions under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and to the passing of new legislation which forced all video releases to appear before the British Board of Film Classification for rating.[8]

The directors' next feature was Ms .45 (1981), a "rape revenge" movie about a mute garment worker turned murderer (Zoë Tamerlis). Reviewers called it "a provocative, disreputable movie, well worth seeing."[9]


In 1984, Ferrara was hired to direct Fear City, starring Melanie Griffith, Billy Dee Williams, Rae Dawn Chong and María Conchita Alonso. When a "kung fu slasher" stalks and murders young women who work in a seedy Times Square strip club, a disgraced boxer portrayed by Tom Berenger uses his fighting skills to defeat the killer.[10]

Ferrara worked on two Michael Mann-produced television series, directing the two-hour pilot for Crime Story (aired 18 September 1986), starring Dennis Farina,[11] and two episodes of the series Miami Vice.[12]

King of New York (1990) stars Christopher Walken as gangster Frank White, Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, David Caruso and Giancarlo Esposito. The movie received overall mixed reviews, but Ferrara was praised for his strong command of mood and style. Critic Roger Ebert wrote, "What Ferrara needs for his next film is a sound screenplay."[13]

Bad Lieutenant (1992) credits Ferrara and actress Zoë Tamerlis, who plays the woman who helps the Lieutenant freebase heroin in the movie, as co-writers of the script, but Tamerlis claimed that she wrote it alone.[14][15]Bad Lieutenant received Spirit Awards nominations for Best Director and Best Actor, and despite its controversial content, the movie was lauded by critics. Director Martin Scorsese named it one of his top 10 films of the 1990s.[16]

In 1993, Ferrara was hired for two Hollywood studio movies: another remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, titled Body Snatchers (1993), for Warner Bros.; and Dangerous Game (1993), starring Keitel and Madonna, for MGM.

In the mid-1990s Ferrara directed two well-received independent movies: The Addiction (1995),[17] photographed in black-and-white, stars Lili Taylor as a philosophy student who succumbs to a vampire as she studies the problem of evil and philosophical pedagogy, represented by the most violent events of the 20th century. The movie also features Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco, Kathryn Erbe and Michael Imperioli. It was co-produced by Russell Simmons.

The Funeral (1996),[18] starring Walken, Sciorra, Chris Penn, Isabella Rossellini, Benicio del Toro, Vincent Gallo and Gretchen Mol, was nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards including Best Director.

Later career

After making The Blackout (1997) with Matthew Modine and Dennis Hopper, he contributed to the omnibus television movie Subway Stories. Ferrara then made New Rose Hotel (1998), which reunited him with Christopher Walken.

Ferrara in 2008.

Ferrara returned three years later with 'R Xmas (2001), which starred Drea de Matteo and Ice-T. He recorded commentaries for Driller Killer and King of New York[] and made Mary (2005), a religious-themed multi-plot movie starring Juliette Binoche, Matthew Modine, Forest Whitaker, Heather Graham, Marion Cotillard,and Stefania Rocca. Mary premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2005. It swept the awards ceremony, garnering the Grand Jury Prize, SIGNIS Award and two others. It was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.[19]

In 2007, Ferrara directed Go Go Tales a comedy with Modine, Bob Hoskins and Willem Dafoe that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival but was not shown in the United States until a special screening at the Anthology Film Archives in 2011.[20]

In 2009, Jekyll and Hyde was set to star Forest Whitaker and 50 Cent. After disagreements with Warner Bros., the movie was shelved in 2010.[21]

In 2009, Napoli, Napoli, Napoli premiered out of competition at the 66th Venice International Film Festival.[22] The docudrama received little attention and poor reviews but Werner Herzog's reboot Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was selected for competition at the prestigious festival. Asked about the Herzog film, Ferrara was quoted widely saying "I wish these people die in hell."[23]

In September 2011, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, starring Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh, premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival.[24]

Ferrara's Welcome to New York, a fictionalized version of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case starring Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset, was released on video on demand in 2014.[25][26] Ferrara's Pasolini (2014) about the titular Italian director stars Willem Dafoe.[27]

With Siberia, Ferrara and Dafoe collaborated for a sixth time in a movie. Inspired by Carl Jung's The Red Book, the script was written by Ferrara and Chris Zois.[28][29]

Personal life

Ferrara is married to Cristina Chiriac and they have a daughter, Anna.[30][31][32] He was previously married to Nancy Ferrara.[33] Ferrara has two adopted children: Endira and Lucy.[34][35] He was also in a relationship with actress Shanyn Leigh.[36][37]

Ferrara lives in Rome, Italy.[38] He moved there following the 9/11 attacks because it was easier for him to find financing for his movies in Europe.[39]

Raised Catholic, Ferrara started describing himself as Buddhist in 2007.[40] When asked if he had converted, Ferrara responded,

It's not a conversion, you're not a card-carrying Catholic, you're brought up Italian, so you're brought up with those images. All the great art is financed by the Church so they have a monopoly on the paintings, and they're powerful images, the whole nine yards of it. But Jesus was a living man, and so were Buddha and Muhammad. These three guys changed the fucking world, with their passion and love of other human beings. All these guys had was their word, and they came from fucking nowhere. I'm not saying Nazareth is nowhere - I'm sure Jesus came from a very cool neighbourhood.

-- Abel Ferrara[41]


Artists and filmmakers who influenced Ferrara's work include "the Stones and Dylan...DaVinci, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen and all of the great New York film makers."[42] He has also credited Pier Paolo Pasolini and Rainer Werner Fassbinder as influences.[43][44][45]


Year Film Director Writer Actor Notes
1971 Nicky's Film Yes Yes short film
1972 The Hold Up Yes Yes Yes short film
1973 Could It Be Love Yes Yes short film
1976 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy Yes Yes pornographic movie
credited as Jimmy Boy L.
1977 Not Guilty: For Keith Richards Yes documentary, short film
1979 The Driller Killer Yes Yes role: Reno
performance credited as Jimmy Laine
1981 Ms .45 Yes Yes role: 1st rapist
performance credited as Jimmy Laine
1984 Fear City Yes
1986 The Gladiator Yes TV movie
Crime Story Yes TV pilot
1987 China Girl Yes
1988 The Loner Yes TV movie
1989 Cat Chaser Yes
1990 King of New York Yes
1992 Bad Lieutenant Yes Yes
1993 Body Snatchers Yes
Dangerous Game Yes
1995 The Addiction Yes
1996 Mylène Farmer: California Yes Music video
The Funeral Yes
1997 The Blackout Yes Yes
Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground Yes TV movie
Segment "Love on the A Train"
1998 New Rose Hotel Yes Yes
2001 'R Xmas Yes Yes
2004 Abenaa: "Rain" Yes Yes music video
2005 Mary Yes Yes
2006 Exes Yes role: Cain
2007 Go Go Tales Yes Yes
2008 Chelsea on the Rocks Yes Yes documentary
2009 Napoli Napoli Napoli Yes Yes documentary
Daddy Longlegs Yes role: Robber
2010 Mulberry St. Yes documentary
OneDreamRush: Dream Piece Yes short film
2011 4:44 Last Day on Earth Yes Yes
2012 Pizza Connection Yes web series
No Saints Yes short film
My Big-Assed Mother Yes Role: Charles Bukowski
short film
2014 Welcome to New York Yes Yes
Pasolini Yes Yes [46]
Don Peyote Yes role: Taxi cab driver
2016 Sculpt Yes
2017 Black Butterfly Yes role: Pat
Alive in France Yes Yes Yes documentary
Piazza Vittorio Yes Yes documentary[47]
Hans Yes Yes short film
2018 Buon Lavoro Yes [48]
Talking with the Vampires Yes Yes Yes documentary, short film[49]
2019 The Projectionist Yes Yes Documentary[50]
Tommaso Yes Yes
2020 Siberia Yes Yes
Sportin' Life Yes Yes Yes Documentary[51]

Recurring collaborators

Ferrara has recast many of the same actors in his movies, most notably Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe.[52] Other actors he has recast include Annabella Sciorra and Matthew Modine as well as character actors such as Victor Argo, Paul Calderón and Giancarlo Esposito.[53]David Caruso is another one of Ferrara's frequent film collaborators.[54]Ms.45 (1981) star Zoë Lund collaborated with Ferrara again on Bad Lieutenant (1992), which she co-wrote.[55]Gretchen Mol has worked with Ferrara twice.[56]Forest Whitaker starred in Ferrara's movies Mary (2005) and Body Snatchers (1993).[57]

Actor The Driller Killer
Ms .45
Crime Story
China Girl
King of New York
Bad Lieutenant
Body Snatchers
Dangerous Game
The Addiction
The Funeral
The Blackout
New Rose Hotel
'R Xmas
Go Go Tales
Chelsea on the Rocks
Napoli Napoli Napoli
4:44 Last Day on Earth
Welcome to New York
Asia Argento ?N ?N
Victor Argo ?N ?N ?N ?N ?N ?N
Paul Calderón ?N ?N ?N ?N
David Caruso ?N ?N ?N
Cristina Chiriac ?N ?N ?N
Willem Dafoe ?N ?N ?N ?N ?N ?N
Giancarlo Esposito ?N ?N
Abel Ferrara ?N ?N ?N
Anna Ferrara ?N ?N
Paul Hipp ?N ?N ?N ?N ?N
Dennis Hopper ?N ?N
Harvey Keitel ?N ?N
Shanyn Leigh ?N ?N ?N ?N ?N
Zoë Lund ?N ?N
Matthew Modine ?N ?N ?N
Gretchen Mol ?N ?N
James Russo ?N ?N
Riccardo Scamarcio ?N ?N
Annabella Sciorra ?N ?N ?N
Christopher Walken ?N ?N ?N ?N
Forest Whitaker ?N ?N

Beginning with The Driller Killer in 1979 through The Projectionist in 2019, Ferrara most frequently works with cinematographer Ken Kelsch as his assistant director.[58]

Awards and nominations

Year Nominated work Award Result Ref
1993 Body Snatchers Palme d'Or Nominated
1993 Bad Lieutenant Independent Spirit Award for Best Director Nominated
1995 The Addiction Golden Berlin Bear Nominated
1996 The Funeral Independent Spirit Award for Best Director Nominated
1998 The Blackout Worst Director - Yoga Awards Won [59]
2001 R' Xmas Un Certain Regard Nominated


  1. ^ Nicole Brenez, Abel Ferrara, University of Illinois Press, 2007 page 2
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  3. ^ Lim, Dennis (2008-10-12). "Struggling With Faith and Gentrification". The New York Times. Retrieved .
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  5. ^ Dawson, Nick. "Abel Ferrara, Mary". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved .
  6. ^ Paszylk, Bartlomiej (9 March 2009). "The Driller Killer". The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: An Historical Survey. McFarland. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-7864-3695-8.
  7. ^ "Abel Ferrara: 'I made Scarface look like Mary Poppins'". The Guardian (Interview). 5 August 2010. Retrieved 2012.
  8. ^ "Video Nasties". bbfc.co.uk. British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved .
  9. ^ "Ms .45 (2015), directed by Abel Ferrara | Film review". timeout.com. 2015-08-22. Archived from the original on 2015-08-22. Retrieved .
  10. ^ "Fear City (1984)", Rotten Tomatoes, retrieved
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  13. ^ Ebert, Roger. "King Of New York Movie Review (1990)". rogerebert.com. Roger Ebert. Retrieved .
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  19. ^ "2005 TIFF Archives (10 posts)". bombippy.com. Retrieved 2015.
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  23. ^ Brown, Mark (2009-07-30). "Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant joins Venice film festival contenders". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved .
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  30. ^ Vlessing, Etan (January 21, 2020). "Abel Ferrara's 'Tommaso,' 'The Projectionist' Land at Kino Lorber (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2020.
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  32. ^ Coleman, Oli (2017-10-31). "Abel Ferarra moved to Italy for a girl he knocked up". Page Six. Retrieved .
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  56. ^ Hillis, Aaron (26 February 2009). "GRETCHEN MOL INDULGES IN "AN AMERICAN AFFAIR"". Ifc.com.
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  58. ^ Louison, Evan. ""Filmmaking is Like Combat -- 90% Boredom, 5% Panic and 5% Terror": Ken Kelsch on Four Decades as a Cinematographer". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved .
  59. ^ "1998 (novena edición) : Los Catacric y los YoGa". Retrieved .

External links

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