Writer-director Abel Ferrara's thirty-one films include China
Girl (1987), Bad Lieutenant (1992), Body Snatchers (1993), The Addiction
(1995), and The Funeral (1996). Ferrara also directed early episodes of
the Michael Mann created television series Miami Vice. Variety noted
Ferrara's "high art and philosophical ambitions" (1) and
the New York Times wrote that he "seem(s) ... like Martin
Scorsese's younger brother." (2) Ferrara's most recent
films are Mulberry Street (2009) and Napoli, Napoli, and Napoli (2009).
This interview was conducted April 28, 1997.
Do you recall your first impressions of The Conformist?
I have to tell you that on that day I went to see two movies by
directors I had no prior knowledge of--Mean Streets and The Conformist.
How about that? They both were released in 1971. I was 19 years old.
The Conformist, I never saw a film that looked like that and yet it
was the way I always a imagined a film could look. It told me that there
was an art form beyond Hollywood and Vine.
It made rethink the potential for color in movies. I was working in
black and white then. It put me in a new direction. I began to think of
the image differently.
Were there particular scenes that resonated for you?
The scene with the chauffer, when they're driving to the
school, that flashback, the childhood memory, tormented by the other
Yes, very potent. How about the lighting in the radio studio, with
the singers in the background? That's a scene that always stood out
I remember every frame of that film. Which scene do you want to
How about the train ride? I mean, check that out. Not only the time
changing but the use of light to show that, the emotion of him with this
woman, his marriage night. C'mon, it's like fucking
unbelievable. Just Dominque Sanda herself is just mind blowing.
Yes, a great character, one of the great characters in movies. You
can't quite fathom her.
No. At first you're not sure who she is. She's part of
his memory. He remembers things that didn't happen with her but he
remembers them that way. Then he meets her. There seems to be some kind
of recognition but you're not sure. It's all put through the
prism of his own view of what happens. It's brilliant. Who is she?
What about the cinematography?
It's cinematography of the highest order, the beginning of
cinematography as we know it now. It goes from extreme light and shadow
in Italy to a brighter, more colorful look in France. It's all
about his own freedom and political freedom. The subjective and the
political are inseparable and you feel that in the imagery before you
understand it. The blue of Paris, the way it's shot. The blue
through the windows.
The gold light. I mean, where did that come from? Every frame,
But every time you see The Conformist, it's like you're
seeing it for the first time.
There's so much in it that you always see more.
Any other observations about Vittorio Storaro's
Black. His use of black. He's the master of black.
And yet the color.
But that color looks like that next to his black.
Yes, the black really sets off the color.
That's what I'm saying.
Storaro has had such incomparable influence on cinematography.
Influence? I can't imagine cinema without him.
The Addiction. Dir. Abel Ferrara. Fast Films, et al., 1995.
Bad Lietuenant, Dir. Abel Ferrara. Bad Lt. Productions, 1992.
Body Snatchers. Dir. Abel Ferrara. Warner Bros. Pictures, et al.,
China Girl. Dir. Abel Ferrara. Street Lite, et al., 1987.
The Conformist. Din Bemardo Bertolucci. Mars Film Produzione, 1970
The Funeral. Din Abel Ferrara. October Films, et al. 1996.
Mean Streets. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Warner Bros. Pictures, et al.,
(1) Emanuel Levy, Variety, May 25, 1997, online.
(2) Dave Kehr, New York Times, August 3, 2001, online.