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Lenny

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    C.D. Workman
    Senior Member

  • Lenny



    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: February 10, 2015
    Director: Bob Fosse
    Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Valerie Perrine, Jan Miner, Stanley Beck, Rashel Novikoff, Gary Morton, Guy Rennie
    Year: 1974
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Lenny Bruce (Hoffman) is an up-and-coming nightclub comedian with a filthy mouth and an obsession with a stripper named Honey (Perrine). His jokes are politically incorrect, but his mix of high-brow wit and low-brow dick jokes wins him an audience. The more successful he gets, however, the more he's told to tone it down, something he finds difficult to do. He is repeatedly brought before the law on obscenity charges; unable to suppress his comedic instincts or to cope with the mounting pressure, he turns to drugs, and his health and mental state quickly degenerate.

    Born in 1925, Bruce (whose real name was Leonard Alfred Schneider) came by an interest in the performing arts early—his mother was a stage dancer who later turned to acting and stand-up comedy to support herself and her son. Bruce's early routines were little more than reworked variations on what his mother was doing, but over time he revised his act. As it became more adult and honest, it also became funnier, and soon Bruce was making a name for himself in the business. After meeting Honey Harlow, he moved to California with her, where he found work as a screenwriter on low-budget films. He continued to refine his stand-up act and recorded a number of well-received albums. Though he touched on a number of pertinent and timely issues, it was his insistence on including references to various bodily functions that lead to his greatest fame—and multiple criminal charges.

    In 1961, his career took a major turn for the worse when he was arrested in San Francisco and charged with obscenity for using the word “cocksucker.” It wasn't his first arrest, though it was the first in relation to his act; nor would it be his last. His final arrest in 1964 lead to his conviction on obscenity charges, despite a movement in the arts community demanding that his free speech rights be recognized. Though convicted and ordered to report to a workhouse, he died from an accidental drug overdose shortly after sentencing. (In 2003 he was given a posthumous pardon by the governor of New York.)

    It didn't take long for Broadway to realize the dramatic potential for a stage adaptation based on Bruce's life. The play proved popular enough, and in 1972 its lead actor, Cliff Gorman, won a Tony for the role. Bob Fosse—himself a graduate of Broadway who had struck box office gold by adapting another play, Cabaret (1972), to the big screen—was immediately interested. Since Gorman had so little box office draw, Fosse cast Oscar-nominated actor Dustin Hoffman, fresh off a string of critical and commercial successes, in the lead role. Hoffman, so perfect at playing neurotic types, was a bravura choice, even if Fosse's direction keeps him from realizing his full potential.

    Fosse gives the picture a faux documentary style, with an invisible interviewer interrogating the people who knew Bruce best, including his ex-wife, his mother, and his agent. Their stories unfold through flashbacks, with the various stories presented in a nonlinear fashion. It all gets to be a bit heavy-handed at times, even if the story at its heart—though largely fictional—lionizes Bruce in an effort to condemn assaults on free speech. In reality, Bruce was something of a huckster who'd been arrested for setting up a fake charity to make himself rich, something he copped to in his autobiography. It doesn't matter: the story of a man brought to trial for using words that were common in his day, even if they weren't typically muttered publicly by “polite” society, is one most viewers rightfully can get behind. In retrospect, it seems hard to believe that anyone could be arrested for verbal “obscenity,” but freedom comes with a price, a price usually paid by the enterprising spirit who took those first tentative steps toward challenging the cultural norm of his or her time. In that respect, Bruce is very much a hero, one who deserves to be lionized despite his faults.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Lenny comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time in an edition limited to 3,000 copies. The film is presented in 1080p with an MPEG-4 AVC encode, in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The video quality is stellar; the Oscar-nominated photography is meant to be dark and deep, and it's doubtful that it ever looked better or richer than it does here. Blacks dissolve into various shades of gray, with striking light sources illuminating various parts of the screen in a masterly stroke that resembles chiaroscuro converted to gray scale. Detail is never lost, and there's a great deal of it in the numerous close-ups of actors' faces. There's also a great deal of grain, but it always looks natural and never overpowers the detail, while blacks never devolve into crush. Nor does there appear to have been any sharpening tools used. In all, the transfer is very organic. Twilight Time has also placed the film on a 50GB disc, ensuring that it never suffers from compression issues or artifacting.

    Lenny contains three tracks: the film's primary soundtrack is in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono; an isolated music and effects track, also in DTS-HD Master Audio Mono; and an audio commentary featuring film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The primary track is quite nice. It should be remembered that this is not a film in which music is a major driver, though it does have its place; rather, scenes are fueled by dialogue, whether that be through interviews or stand-up (the latter of which were downplayed by Fosse in favor of stronger visual elements). The isolated track holds up just as well. As for the commentary, Kirgo and Redman clearly have done their research; they discuss not only Lenny's background but Fosse's as well, and they dissect the film's historicity (or lack thereof) in addition to its various qualities. Subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are also included.

    Other than the commentary, the only actual extra is the film's original theatrical trailer, which runs a little less than three minutes. (There's also an MGM 90th anniversary trailer that runs a little over two minutes.) Finally, a booklet is included; containing liner notes by Kirgo, it extols the film's many virtues while not being afraid to point out its problems. As is usual with Kirgo's work, it's a fun and informative read.

    The Final Word:

    Lenny is an uncomfortable film. Yet it has moments of raw power, and Hoffman gives a commanding performance. Fosse may have been more interested in Honey than he was in Lenny, but his work is indisputably powerful, an advocate for free speech that doesn't much like its central character. Twilight Time's presentation offers rewarding audio and video, and the commentary is revelatory.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!





















    • Mark Tolch
      #1
      Mark Tolch
      Senior Member
      Mark Tolch commented
      Editing a comment
      I want to see this one because I like Lenny Bruce. But I hate Dustin Hoffman. So torn.
    Posting comments is disabled.

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