Since making his feature film directorial debut in the ’70s, Abel Ferrara has been a director whose work is always worth watching. Sometimes because his work is startling and shocking, sometimes because of his compelling visuals, but over the course of the decades he has built a cinematic that asserts himself as a filmmaker. never less interesting. Unsurprisingly, Ferrara is someone strong enough that he doesn’t let something as small as a global pandemic slow him down, as demonstrated by his latest motion picture. , Zeros and Ones, available for purchase on all your favorite streaming services even as you read this.
When Ferrara suggested himself to the press to discuss the project, he chose Decider as one of the outlets that was worth his time and we made the most of the opportunity: aside from talking about Zeros and Zeros and collaborating with Ethan Hawke, we also chatted about his work with Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel, hit classics like Miss .45 and Body jerksand will he headbutt Michael Mann Miami Vice and Crime story.
DECIDER: Obviously you made this movie during the pandemic, but I understand you actually had the idea for it before that.
ABEL FERRARA: Well, that’s not the idea. I’m thinking of a spy movie, I guess. Counterintelligence. Elements of… [Hesitates.] I do not know What I was thinking about! [Laughs.] But it did not come together. You know, I didn’t pressing it. It was just an idea that I had. Then I thought during the pandemic… Because, you know, I’m living in Rome and working Sportin ‘Life, and I went back and forth to the editorial office – semi-illegal, but it’s not far away – and worked remotely. But like everyone, I really experienced the stalemate and experience of the city in such trauma. So I think that kind of puts it together for me.
It certainly feels very claustrophobic at times, which I’m sure was at least partly intended. I also enjoyed when Ethan Hawke – as a brother – had an LSD related incident, because…
[At this moment, I produced my copy of Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory.]
Oh, okay! Okay, so you’ve got all the references and stuff from there.
Sure. Are you a Guthrie fan? Is that how it happened?
I mean, we used his song “Do Re Mi” when we did the documentary about… Actually, it was about Piazza Vittorio, the location we filmed!
You and Ethan Hawke seem like a good match, cinematic speaking. Do you enjoy working with him?
Yes, he’s great. I’ve known him for a long time. You know, he’s one of those guys that you know you’ll end up working with, and this is where the situation goes. You know, he’s also a guitar player.
I also love how you position Ethan – as himself – providing both the film’s foreword as well as the epilogue. Is that something you planned in advance?
No, you know, it was one of those crazy accidents, you know? He just did it in the beginning to get things going, and… I don’t know, we’ve done it a few times before, so it just seemed natural, and then… I just felt myself. It’s him that needs to be reviewed. It’s like the third Ethan. [Laughs.] You know, he’s playing a soldier, he’s playing the soldier’s brother… It makes sense.
When you put the movie together, I know you said you wanted to make a spy movie, but do you have a specific vision of the message you want to say? Or did you just build it on the fly because of the situation?
I mean, it’s like [Stanley] Film is not an inverted pyramid built on one idea, says Kubrick. So you just… [Pauses] You know, we’re doing a lot of different things, a lot of different feelings and emotions and events and ideas that we want to see. And then you invite the actors, the staff members and everyone, they all bring something to the table. And we’re exploring it all, whether it’s just in the light or by using a movie camera in action. All types. Know that we believe in the process. I believe that if we all stay as open and focused as possible, the movie will eventually be worth it.
Are you looking forward to the return of some normal cinematic visuals after the pandemic?
[Snorts.] I’m looking forward to it, but I know it’s not here now!
I’d like to ask you about a few things from your following catalog, one of which I didn’t know about until preparing for this conversation: you directed the video for my favorite Ben Folds Five song, ” Don’t change your plans. ”
Oh, yes. Wow, that was a while ago!
I know you’ve directed a few videos over the years, but is that the case for him specifically coming to you?
Yes, he contacted me. He said he liked my work and if we could do that… He gave us the song, and that’s one of the things that put it together.
Is Ben your usual musical taste? Or if not, where do your tastes usually lie?
You know, like everyone, we heard the same thing when we were 15. Blues and all that.
When you look at your back-end portfolio, is there a project that you feel is the most underrated or that should have received more love?
All of them! [Laughs.] No, you know, I’m glad we made them at this point, really. And even very early! For us, making a movie together and making it… I knew what we needed, so when we finished it, it was really gratifying. Anything after that is gravy. At the end of the day, we finished the movie and that’s the movie we wanted.
You have worked with Willem Dafoe more than a few times. How did you and him cross the road for the first time? Is it in New York?
Yes, I know him from New York. He was in Wooster group, so we already know all about Willem. And then he was filming, and he really was a movie star, when we first saw him downtown. I met him, wanted him for a few things, and then we ended up together in New Rose Hotel. It was the first time.
And after we got over that – because, you know, it’s always a little tough the first time – we watched the movie, we were great, and we moved on. Go Go Tales. Actually, we both went to Rome at the same time, and that bonded us a little bit more. Then we started working together in earnest.
Through the magic of streaming, I was able to review some of your previous movies, but I also managed to watch Body jerks for the first time, which I just thought was great.
Oh, thank you. You know, Jack Finney’s “Body Snatchers” is… Well, it’s like [William] “New Rose Hotel” by Gibson. Those are great short stories, truly inspirational pieces of material.
I also had a chance to see Miss .45.
Oh so? [Laughs.] What do you think about that?
I think it was… a moment in time. More for the time that it was created than it is now. But it’s a very interesting historical artifact. How do you look back at it?
Well, again, I look back on it as if I’m glad we made it. I look back at it fondly. That’s something we did very early on and I’m proud of that.
What was the experience of working with Michael Mann like? Miami Vice and Crime story?
He’s great. He’s like a genius math director. [Laughs.] He came to it in a different way than I did at the time. I learned many things from him.
Well, he’s one of those people who – like you – has a very specific vision, which is why I was wondering if there was any kind of headbutt involved.
You know, he’s hiring me, so I’m just trying to figure out his game, you know? [Laughs.] But he’s figuring it out on his own, because Miami Vice… I mean, I was there from the beginning. But, yes, he has his vision, and I’m just trying to execute it.
And Crime story was an idea he had wanted to implement for a long time. Like, that’s the kind of thing he should have directed, in a way. So I’m just trying to get it. All of these people are from Chicago, and they have their own behavior, all about the interplay between the police and the gang. You know, the Italians.
But you have to try and figure out how you can approach… [Hesitates.] I mean, I’m watching it like a movie, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but in my heart, I know these people have to think about how to take that story and run with it. for a few years. For me, I just focused on it as a movie rather than just the first 90 minutes. But it was a good experience, and looking back on it, I really learned a lot.
Finally, I know people mention it to you all the time, but I love your work with Harvey Keitel on Bad lieutenant. It’s an iconic movie.
Ah, thanks, Will.
Did you have a favorite experience of working with Keitel on that film?
Everything with Harvey was a favorite moment. [Laughs.] He is moment by moment favorite!
Will Harris (@NonStopPop) has a long history of doing lengthy interviews with random pop culture figures for AV Club, Vulture, and a host of other outlets, including Variety. He is currently working on a book with David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker. (And don’t call him Shirley.)
https://decider.com/2021/11/20/abel-ferrara-interview-zeros-and-ones/ ‘Zeros And Ones’, Working With Ethan Hawke And More