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

Abel Ferrara
Abel Ferrara Cannes 2017.jpg
Abel Ferrara at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival
Born (1951-07-19) July 19, 1951 (age 68)
Other namesJimmy Boy L, Jimmy Laine
OccupationDirector, screenwriter, actor, producer, editor, cinematographer
Years active1971–present
Spouse(s)Nancy Ferrara
Christina Ferrara

Early lifeEdit

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 15 years old, he moved to Peekskill in Westchester, New York. He attended the film conservatory at SUNY Purchase, where he directed several short films.

Early careerEdit

Finding himself out of work after film school in 1976, Ferrara directed a pornographic film titled 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy using a pseudonym.[4] 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."[5]

Ferrara first drew a cult audience with his grindhouse movie The Driller Killer (1979), an urban slasher film. The film follows the exploits of an artist (played by the director himself) who goes on a killing spree with a power drill. In the United Kingdom, the film 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.[6]

The directors' sophomore feature was a "rape revenge" film about a mute garment turned murderer played by frequent collaborator Zoë Tamerlis called Ms .45 (1981). Reviewers called it "a provocative, disreputable movie, well worth seeing."[7]

Ferrara was next hired to direct a neo-noir, erotic action thriller called Fear City (1984), 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 has to use his fighting skills to defeat the killer.

Ferrara worked on two Michael Mann-produced television series, directing the two-hour pilot for Crime Story (aired 18 September 1986), starring Dennis Farina,[8] and two episodes of the series Miami Vice.[9]

One of his most well-known films, King of New York (1990), stars Christopher Walken as gangster Frank White, who runs a group of black drug dealers, including one played by Laurence Fishburne. The cast includes Wesley Snipes, David Caruso and Giancarlo Esposito. The film received overall mixed reviews but Ferrara was praised for his strong command of mood and style.[10] (1992)

In his review for King of New York, Roger Ebert wrote "What Ferrara needs for his next film is a sound screenplay." Bad Lieutenant (1992) credits Ferrara and actor Paul Calderon as co-writers of the script, but Zoë Tamerlis - who plays the woman who helps the Lieutenant freebase heroin in the film - claims that she wrote it alone.[11][12]

Bad Lieutenant received Spirit Awards nominations for Best Director and Best Actor and, despite its controversial content, the film was lauded by critics. Martin Scorsese named it one of his top 10 films of the 1990s.[13]

In 1993, Ferrara was hired for two Hollywood studio films: a new 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),[14] photographed in black-and-white, stars Lili Taylor as a New York University 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 film also features Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco, Kathryn Erbe and Michael Imperioli. It was co-produced by Russell Simmons.

The Funeral (1996),[15] 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 careerEdit

After making The Blackout (1997) with Matthew Modine and Dennis Hopper, he contributed to the omnibus HBOtelevision 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.

After recording two commentaries for Driller Killer and King of New York[citation needed], he made Mary (2005), the religious-themed film starring Forest Whitaker, Marion Cotillard, Juliette Binoche, Heather Graham, Stefania Rocca and Matthew Modine. The multi-plot film concerns an actress (Binoche) who stars in a Passion of the Christ-like movie about Jesus, where she plays Mary Magdalene, with whom she subsequently becomes obsessed. Matthew Modine portrays the director of the film, who bears striking similarities to Mel Gibson. 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 also seen at the Toronto International Film Festival.[16]

In 2007, he directed a comedy with Modine, Bob Hoskins and Willem Dafoe, Go Go Tales. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was either highly acclaimed or vehemently disliked.[citation needed] Ferrara began preparations for Jekyll and Hyde in 2009, which was to star Forest Whitaker and 50 Cent. After disagreements with Warner Bros. the film was indefinitely shelved in 2010.[citation needed]

A Ferrara film, the docudrama called Napoli Napoli Napoli, is scheduled to premiere at the Rome Film Festival. Ferrara plays a small role as a mugger in the independent film Daddy Longlegs (2010). Also in 2010, Ferrara teamed up with Film Annex, an online film distribution platform and Web Television Network, to launch In a press release about the new web channel, Ferrara said, "We have been looking for a place, a home to express what we are doing and to avoid the misinformation found when we are not active on a website. With Francesco Rulli, the Founder of Film Annex, we hope to create a distribution platform for the work, both past and present, while actively interacting with our audience, collaborators and other filmmakers."[17]

In April 2011, Ferrara began shooting his first feature in four years, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, starring Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh.. The film premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival in September 2011 and released in theatres in March 2012.[18] In April 2013, Ferrara a fictionalized version of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case titled Welcome to New York starring Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset.[19] It was released on VOD in 2014 because the film failed to be picked up for theatrical distribution.[20]

2014 also saw the release of Pasolini about the acclaimed Italian director, poet, journalist and intellectual who was murdered in 1975. The film stars Willem Dafoe in the title role.[21]

It has been confirmed that Ferrara and Dafoe will collaborate for a fifth time in a film inspired by Carl Jung's The Red Book. The script has been written by Ferrara and Chris Zois and will be titled Siberia.[22][23] Isabelle Huppert and Nicolas Cage will co-star with Dafoe.[24]

Personal lifeEdit

Ferrara is married to Christina and they have a daughter.[25] [26] He was previously married to Nancy Ferrara.[27] Ferrara also has two adopted children: Endira and Lucy.[28][29] He was also in a relationship with actress Shanyn Leigh.[30][31]

Ferrara lives in Rome, Italy.[32] He moved there following the 9/11 attacks because it was easier for him to find financing for his films in Europe.[33]

Raised Roman Catholic, Ferrara started describing himself as Buddhist in 2007.[34] When asked if he had converted, Ferrara responded,


Artists and filmmakers who influenced his work include "the Stones and Dylan...DaVinci, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen and all of the great New York film makers."[36]

Ferrara has also admitted that Pier Paolo Pasolini has served as influence in becoming a filmmaker.[37] He also credited Stanley Kubrick and Woody Allen as influences,[38] as well as Rainer Werner Fassbinder.[39]


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 adult feature film; credited as Jimmy Boy L.
1977 Not Guilty: For Keith Richards Yes Documentary short film
1979 The Driller Killer Yes Yes Plays Reno; credited as Jimmy Laine
1981 Ms .45 Yes Yes Plays the 1st Rapist; credited as Jimmy Laine
1984 Fear City Yes
1986 The Gladiator Yes TV movie starring Nancy Allen
Crime Story Yes TV series pilot
1987 China Girl Yes A modern retelling of West Side Story as a gang war between the Chinese tong and the Italian Mafia.
1988 The Loner Yes TV movie
1989 Cat Chaser Yes Peter Weller
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 for Mylène Farmer
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 for Abenaa
2005 Mary Yes Yes
2006 Exes Yes Actor only, as 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 aka Go Get Some Rosemary, actor only, as robber
2010 Mulberry St. Yes Documentary
OneDreamRush: Dream Piece Yes Short film segment
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 Short film; as Charles Bukowski
2014 Welcome to New York Yes Yes
Pasolini Yes Yes [40]
Don Peyote Yes Actor only, as taxi cab driver
2016 Sculpt Yes Actor only
2017 Black Butterfly Yes Actor only, as Pat; remake of the 2008 French thriller; directed by Brian Goodman
Alive in France Yes Yes Yes Music documentary about the songs and music from his films
Piazza Vittorio Yes Yes Documentary about Rome's biggest public square[41]
Hans Yes Yes Short film tribute to Hans Hurch
2018 Buon Lavoro Yes Actor only; post-production as of autumn 2017[42]
Talking with the Vampires Yes Yes Yes 30-minute documentary included on Arrow Video's Blu-ray of The Addiction[24]
2019 Tommaso Yes Yes
TBA Siberia Yes Yes In development; a film inspired by Carl Jung's The Red Book[24]

Recurring collaboratorsEdit

Ferrara has recast many of the same actors in his films, most notably Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe.[43] 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.[44] David Caruso is another one of Ferrara's frequent film collaborators.[45] M .45 (1981) star Zoë Lund collaborated with Ferrara again on Bad Lieutenant (1992), which she co-wrote.[46] Gretchen Mol has worked with Ferrara twice.[47] Forest Whitaker starred in Ferrara's films Mary (2005) and Body Snatchers (1993).[48]

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
Willem Dafoe  N  N  N  N
Giancarlo Esposito  N  N
Abel Ferrara  N  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

Awards and nominationsEdit

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 [49]
2001 R' Xmas Un Certain Regard Nominated


  1. ^ Nicole Brenez, Abel Ferrara, University of Illinois Press, 2007 page 2
  2. ^ Goldstein, Patrick (1990-10-28). "MOVIES The Prince of Darkness Director Abel Ferrara practices a kind of gonzo filmmaking, and his violent vision isn't a particularly popular one in Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-11-21.
  3. ^ Lim, Dennis (2008-10-12). "Struggling With Faith and Gentrification". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  4. ^ Paszylk, Bartlomiej. "The Driller Killer". The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: An Historical Survey. McFarland. p. 153. ISBN 0-7864-3695-6.
  5. ^ Abel Ferrara: 'I made Scarface look like Mary Poppins'. interview, 5 August 2010, Guardian. Retrieved on 2012-04-15.
  6. ^ "Video Nasties | British Board of Film Classification". Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  7. ^ "Ms .45 (2015), directed by Abel Ferrara | Film review". 2015-08-22. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  8. ^ "Crime Story. 1986. Directed by Abel Ferrara". Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  9. ^ "Abel Ferrara Interview". Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger. "King Of New York Movie Review (1990) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  11. ^ Zoe Tamerlis on the script of "Bad Lieutenant", retrieved 2019-09-09
  12. ^ "13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant". 2017-11-20. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  13. ^ Roger Ebert & The Movies (show #1426), 26 February 2000. Retrieved on 2012-04-15.
  14. ^ "The Addiction (1995): Awards". Allmovie. Retrieved Feb 9, 2014.
  15. ^ "The Funeral (1996)". Allmovie. Retrieved Feb 9, 2014.
  16. ^ "2005 TIFF Archives (10 posts)". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  17. ^ "Film Annex and Abel Ferrara Create Web TV Channel". May 26, 2010. Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Retrieved January 25, 2012.
  18. ^ "Venezia 68: International competition of feature films". Venice. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2011-08-28.
  19. ^ Child, Ben (February 6, 2012). "Gerard Depardieu to star in film inspired by Dominique Strauss-Kahn". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
  20. ^ Donadio, Rachel (May 18, 2014). "Cannes Film Festival: Strauss-Kahn Film Under Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  21. ^ "Director Abel Ferrara on Mysterious 1975 Death of Pier Paolo Pasolini: 'I Know Who Killed Him'". The Hollywood Reporter. March 28, 2014. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  22. ^ Fleming Jr., Mike (14 May 2015). "He's Back! Abel Ferrara To Launch Willem Dafoe-Starrer 'Siberia' On Croisette". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  23. ^ Rife, Katie (14 May 2015). "Get Involved, Internet: Help Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe make a movie about dreams". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  24. ^ a b c Murthi, Vikram (19 December 2016). "Isabelle Huppert, Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe Star in Abel Ferrara's New Film 'Siberia'". IndieWire. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  25. ^ Shoard, Catherine (18 May 2015). "Abel Ferrera turns to Kickstarter: 'I'm gonna hurt people with this film'". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  26. ^ Coleman, Oli (2017-10-31). "Abel Ferarra moved to Italy for a girl he knocked up". Page Six. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  27. ^ Maslin, Janet (19 November 1993). "Review/Film; A Movie Within a Movie, With a Demure Madonna". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  28. ^ "Abel Ferrara Biography (1952?-)". Film Reference. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  29. ^ Hoban, Phoebe (1 February 1993). "Raising Cain". New York. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
  30. ^ Macnab, Geoffrey (3 March 2012). "Willem Dafoe: 'I have a charmed life'". The Independent. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  31. ^ Hoberman, J. (19 March 2012). "Home for the End of Days". New York. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  32. ^ Righelato, Rowan (11 September 2015). "Abel Ferrara: 'Pasolini's death is not some kind of fictional event'". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  33. ^ Lim, Dennis (10 October 2008). "Struggling With Faith and Gentrification". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  34. ^ Shoard, Catherine (23 May 2014). "Abel Ferrara at Cannes: 'You gotta be careful what you say … but I'm not'". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  35. ^ – via Missing or empty |title= (help)
  36. ^ "Abel Ferrara Interview". Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  37. ^ Kasman, Daniel (7 June 2014). "The Pursuit of Freedom: Abel Ferrara Discusses "Welcome to New York"". Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  38. ^ Carli, Vittorio. "Abel Ferrara Interview". Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  39. ^ cryptekeeper (3 December 2012). "Cryptekeeper 041 Abel Ferrara/4H44 dernier jour sur terre" – via YouTube.
  40. ^ Hopewell, John (August 16, 2013). "Ferrara, Dafoe Re-team for 'Pasolini'". Variety. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  41. ^ Cox, Gordon (23 August 2017). "Vanessa Redgrave, Alex Gibney, Griffin Dunne Documentaries Join New York Film Festival Slate (EXCLUSIVE)".
  42. ^ "Home - Buon Lavoro - Il film". Buon Lavoro - Il film.
  43. ^ RUILOVA, AÏDA. "ABEL FERRARA". Interview.
  44. ^ Dee, Jake (7 January 2014). "DISSECTING DIRECTOR ABEL FERRARA!".
  45. ^ "Indie Filmmaker Abel Ferrara Will Bring Short Eyes Back to Broadway". 24 February 2010.
  46. ^ Vestby, Ethan (9 December 2013). "Abel Ferrara On Artistic Freedom, Collaboration, 'Ms. 45,' Pier Paolo Pasolini & More".
  47. ^ Hillis, Aaron (26 February 2009). "GRETCHEN MOL INDULGES IN "AN AMERICAN AFFAIR"".
  48. ^ Nastasi, Alison (19 November 2009). "Abel Ferrara's 'Jekyll and Hyde' Coming Soon From Warner Bros". Moviefone. Archived from the original on 10 December 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  49. ^ "1998 (novena edición) : Los Catacric y los YoGa". Retrieved 2019-09-09.

External linksEdit