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Perhaps the chilliest press conference I ever attended, one in which the conflicts of the movie seemed to drift right off the celluloid into the audience and then back onto the stage, occurred when Abel Ferrara’s The King of New York played the New York Film Festival in 1990. I was thrilled by the film, particularly its concluding adagio, in which Christopher Walken bleeds out in the back of a taxi cab stuck amidst the traffic of Times Square. The lights came up, and Ferrara, Walken, Wesley Snipes and some others from the cast walked onstage. The questions were contentious. I remember someone asking Walken if he felt any moral responsibility with regards to the roles he chooses. In his distinctive and unpredictable cadence, he said (something like), “I don’t consider morality when I do a film.” There was something about the way he said it, because the room suddenly dropped about twenty degrees. Apparently someone else asked Ferrara if his film might have had more “quality” if he scored it with classical music instead of rap.

Ferrara remembers that press conference too, referencing it during his return to the festival last week when his latest, 4:44 Last Day on Earth screened for journalists. In the clip below, he flashes back to that time and then talks about his new film from the viewpoint of sobriety. Indeed, 4:44‘s essential scene is one at its midpoint, when, as the end of the world approaches, Willem Dafoe’s sober-for-a-couple-years character slips out to a friend’s apartment to score. There he finds a group of partiers, some snorting lines and some, refusing to relinquish their sobriety in the face of earth’s destruction, sipping soda. What follows is a fascinating and resonant talk about the frameworks we choose to make our decisions within.

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