The king of NY, at home, in exile

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The following article was written by Andrew Purcell and appeared in the Guardian, on August the 6th, 2010.

Of all the great New York movie directors, none has captured the city's nervous energy better than Abel Ferrara. But while Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese have become establishment figures; and Spike Lee and John Cassavetes are celebrated outsiders, Ferrara has largely been ignored. Although he has never stopped making films, it is now more than a decade since his last cinematic release. His best-known movies, Bad Lieutenant and King of New York, are set in the dangerous but fertile period that began in the hip-hop late 70s and ended with the influx of corporate money in the mid-90s. His antiheroes are gangsters, junkies and cops, living on the margins in the heart of Manhattan. Ferrara is the punk poet laureate of a city that no longer exists.

When funding for his projects dried up in 2003, Ferrara moved to Italy. But for three years, he's been back home, downtown. "It's the best place to shoot. I know the neighbourhoods," he says. "The light is really nice here, for some reason." For Ferrara fans, this is cause for excitement. Last year's spat with Werner Herzog over Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans generated plenty of publicity in an industry where name recognition is everything. Warner Brothers reportedly agreed to finance his version of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, starring Forest Whitaker and rapper 50 Cent. Finally, it seemed like his career was on the rise again.

But a lifetime of broken Hollywood promises has made him wary. "I don't care if I get $50m to do a film," he says. "My existence is about making movies, so I've just got to rock and roll with the punches. You want to make movies on telephones, I'm there." Ferrara now lives on Mulberry Street, Little Italy's last drag, hemmed in between Chinatown and Soho. We arrange to meet in a nearby bar, but when the jukebox plays Sinatra's New York, New York twice in a row, it's time to leave. It's only a few metres to his flat, but that's enough to be stopped by a group of tourists, eager to talk movies. He politely waves them off. "Follow me," he says, leading me through a restaurant kitchen. It is a simple galley, but it inevitably reminds me of the shot in Goodfellas when Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco enter the Copacabana nightclub through the basement. Ferrara has been granted the freedom of Little Italy. Each time he finishes a beer, he takes another from the fridge without asking.

Read the rest of the article on the author's website.

About the author: Andrew Purcell is a journalist based in New York. He is the US correspondent for the Sunday Herald, an arts correspondent for the BBC World Service radio, and a freelance writer, primarily for the Guardian. He has interviewed Kurt Vonnegut, Herbie Hancock, David Byrne, Debbie Harry, Ornette Coleman, Donald Trump, and Norman Mailer, among many others.