When Abel Ferrara’s King of New York played at the New York Film Festival recently, it was booed. The feisty B-movie director responded by giving a boxer’s vic-tory salute, and the incident sums up Ferrara’s dilemma: His work is too amoral and violent for art-film buffs, but it’s also too subtle and quirky for the action/crime crowd. Since his films (Ms. 45, Fear City) seem to disappear from theaters after barely opening, Ferrara should be grateful for video. If it didn’t exist, he’d have to invent it to get his films seen.
And they are worth seeing. Ferrara’s movies have the iridescence of Miami Vice (Ferrara directed some episodes), the rude energy of the B’s, and a sophisticated style that glides above their subjects. King of New York careens along loonily: A gaunt Christopher Walken, his eyes beginning to bulge like Peter Lorre’s, plays an eccentric Robin Hood gangster who coolly murders his rivals but offers millions to a hospital in the South Bronx. Ferrara evokes both New York’s dark side and multiethnic culture realistically, confronting race problems squarely. Walken’s drug-dealing gang, made up mostly of blacks, fights Colombians, Italians, and Chinese. But within the gang, there is a cheering interracial camaraderie.
Clearly, Ferrara and King of New York don’t quite fit any standard genre holes, so be forewarned: This tape may be hard to find, since video stores will have no idea where to shelve it. B