“ Genre: Comedy / Actors: Evan Rachel Wood, Jaime King, Josh Zuckerman, David Wagner, Ron Livingston, James Woods, Jane Krakowski, Elisabeth Harnois, Selma Blair, Stark Sands, Danny Comden ... / DVD released 04 June, 2007 at Metrodome Distribution / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, PAL „
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This film is stark raving mad! You find yourself either laughing from horror or just the sheer, unabashed comi-tragic nightmare that unfolds in the slums of Brooklyn, in the 1950s. It is based on the book by Hubert Selby Jnr. and I am confident in saying that after watching the film and learning about the contraversy surrounding the book which was released in the 1960s, I am excited at the prospect that I can also read this disturbing and vibrant story. A review will surely follow some time in the future :-)
The story is pitched up against the background of civil unrest and violence, contaminated with very vivid characters, all trying to both survive and make sense of the urban jungle of Brooklyn which they inhabit. There is a Transvestite called Georgette (seductively played by Alexis Arquette), a hooker called Tralala (Jeninfer Jason Leigh), a trucker with a rather unimaginatively but historically relative name, 'Big Joe' (Burt Young), a sexuallly confused man called Harry Black (Stephen Lang)...amongst other very imaginative and cutting personalities. If the film is an accurate depiction of the book then I anticipate it to be a thoroughly exciting read. You only have to look at the ensemble of characters to know that there is going to be some extreme chemistry in this drama.
Extreme and surreal is what this film is. The storylines that run parrallel and often into each other are very simple in intent and content but the subject matters that riddle between the lines, are very uncomfortable and often evasive; morals are often shredded or obscured in the deep need to either survive physically, emotionally or often both. Just as a warning, there is a gang rape in it but the brutallity of this is quickly and touchingly recovered by a young boy who was very much in love with Tralala, fending off the last of the drunken crowd from her.
Last Exit to Brooklyn, the title itself points to the feeling of being in the 'dead end'. However, the civil unrest that takes place is resolved, victory attained by the working class, a baby is born, a man, even if brutally, learns of his prefered sexuality, a prostitute has, even if for a fleeting moment, cherished what is was like to be respected...I guess what I saw was awful and dark but honest and real, with no room for illusions. It can be a very open debate for optimists and pessimists alike.
In anycase, if we had to drain the last drop out of this bottle, this film makes no apologies in saying 'life can be rubbish but you can keep going', equally, the other side of the coin on rather depressing terms 'if you do not keep your eye on the ball then you are out'. In short, it is a dog eat dog world. Simple as.
Time has a funny way of altering your perceptions, back in 1991 the year after Last Exit To Brooklyn was released I remember watching the movie and thinking it was the most grim and disturbing movie I had ever seen. While 17 years later it certainly falls into the same categories, the passage of time means that the impact here is far less fierce.
Last Exit To Brooklyn is set rather unsurprisingly in Brooklyn during the 1950's in a time where money was harsh and striking was the order of the day. Following no specific characters Last Exit offers a snapshot into the lives of various characters, the highs and the lows, while some lives improve other reach rock bottom.
I can't say Last Exit provides any joy, in fact it's one incredibly harsh journey, that only seems to witness the darkest parts of human nature. It's imagery so intense that the movies tales are literally burned into your brain.
Harry Black (Stephen Lang) is the manager of a strike office; a man who has profited through every else's misery, using strike expense money like it was his own he has parties, drinks excessively, and shops in the most exclusive places. A spender through misery Harry's life should be a happy one, a beautiful wife waiting home for him each night, one that loves him passionately; but Harry has a secret, a life he cannot reveal, for this is not the time in history.
Tralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a brash young woman, everything in her mind revolves around the dollar. Unable to live a normal working existence, and with few positive images of normal life Tralala spends her days working as a tease, seducing men with the offer of sex, but delivering nothing in return using local thugs to attack the unfortunate victim before the offer of sex becomes a reality. Into a miserable life comes the offer of love, but will Tralala choose to embrace love or return to her shady roots.
Big Joe (Burt Young) is one of the workers affected by the strike, unable to work and support a family his life is given further pressure when his daughter Donna unexpectedly falls pregnant. A man of morals Big Joe is determined that the father should become a husband and not just raise, but support his unborn child and wife, but in a time where money is in short supply the dream is seldom like the reality.
George (Alexis Arquette) is a troubled young man, a woman in a man's body in a time that homosexuality is frowned upon let alone the want to be a practising transvestite. As Georgette, he tries to find love in local gang leader Vinnie (Peter Dobson). But Vinnie will not be tempted by the world Georgette, batting for the side of the heterosexual man; what Vinnie will do however is actively engage in hate style activities and teasing of Georgette, a situation bound to end in tragedy.
Shot almost in sepia, the colourless imagery of Last Exit create a dark image of this point in history. The movie looks like it was filmed decades prior, it has a very 70's grittiness about it, while the ferocity of the action onscreen seems alien to some degree anywhere except perhaps Iraq.
Last Exit is a really tragic piece of filmmaking based on the controversial novel by Hubert Selby written in 1964, I'm told that Selby's book is given great respect by Director Uli Edel. Selby constructed the story while on his death bed (interestingly he never died for over 40 years from this time) its initial form being the book Tralala which was deemed a moral outrage, the story telling of the gang rape and murder of a prostitute. Inspired by the character Tralala Selby based Last Exit To Brooklyn around this, keeping the character and her nasty habits but removing some of the final more disturbing detail.
The movie was shot in Red Hook an area of Brooklyn that you really did not want to be, the history of the location matching a similar graphic nature to the book. In fact Uli Edel during selection of location took a ride to Red Hook where the driver of the taxi told him the people were too afraid to go out on the streets. Deciding the location was ideal for filming he sent the movie's producer to investigate the location, he in turn returned several hours later white in skin colour having discovered that at the exact location Uli planned to film a body had been found decapitated and missing its hands. This news only strengthened Uli's need to film there and during the movies 8 month filming bodies and murders occurred near the set on a daily basis, luckily none of this effected the film, or its crew who were treated with a great deal of respect by the locals of the area.
The performances in the movie are magnificent, none of the performers afraid to shame themselves, Jennifer Jason Leigh in numerous portions being filmed in a state of undress, while delivering a convincing performance as a woman uninhibited by life's restrictions but wanting more than she is likely to achieve. Her story has the most disturbing ending, and her delivery of a woman abused is legendary if not incredibly convincing. It's interesting to see Stephen Baldwin, as a thug, a role he played frequently during the 90's but far from his preacher like status he lives by now; I wonder if he has any regrets about some of his movie performances during the 80's and the 90's.
The movie is a violent piece, and the depiction of violence is incredibly extreme, so those of a sensitive disposition would be well served avoiding the movie.
I'm convinced that despite being a work of fiction, that this is a fairly accurate portrayal of life during this time in areas that were hit by hardship. It most certainly explains the bleak look New York had during the movies of the 60's and 70's that showed lots of old and derelict buildings. It also explains the decline of the City, something that has affected New York to this very day, although there are signs of dramatic improvement.
The making of: This feature is a very grainy and poor quality documentary that looks rather like the movie to be shot before its time. The story is told from page to screen, the problems and the adventures while filming. The documentary is shown mainly from the standpoint od Uli Edel and Hubert Selby.
Deleted Scenes - These are extended offerings of the scenes shown in the movie.
Promotional Reel - This 15 minute offering slightly alludes me in to its purpose it's more like an abridged version of the movie with all the extreme scenes cut out.
It Will Be Better Tomorrow - A documentary on the work of Hubert Selby Jr. Narrated by Robert Downey Jr. This documentary speaks to people that worked with Selby and is a feature on the person rather than his products, almost like a biography channel style documentary profiling Selby's life from birth to death; with obvious references to his novels Last Exit To Brooklyn and Requiem For A Dream. From his illness, to his persecution by the American authorities. There are excerpts of Selby just prior to his death in 2004. A talented writer, womaniser, alcoholic, convict, and a drug addict this documentary looks at the man known to his friends as Cubby.
There is also a photo gallery that offers approximately 100 images from behind the camera.
The DVD is available from play.com for £8.99 though if you have a Rise store (formally FOP) you should be able to get this movie for £5.
Spencer Hawken 03/08
Many films have shown 50s America as a period of post war economic boom. Weve seen in these films the rise of youth culture often portrayed as cute teenagers, listening to Elvis living in clean comfortable houses behind and white picket fences. This is certainly not the view that is exposed in Last Exit To Brooklyn! Based on the cult novel by Hubert Selby Jr, which prompted the great beat poet Allen Ginsberg to say that it would explode like a rusty hellish bombshell over America and still be eagerly read in a hundred years. Made in 1989 the film version might not quite have the same dramatic impact but Last Exit to Brooklyn is still even today a brutal and uncompromising view of the underprivileged 1950s America.
Set as the title suggest in a rough neighbourhood in Brooklyn the story follows the lives of some of its people. Tralala is street whore that makes the fatal mistake of falling in love with one of her clients a young soldier bound for the war in Korea. Big Joe is the factory worker whose young daughter is unmarried and pregnant. He goes through his life solving problems with his fists. Harry Black is the dockers foreman outwardly macho but inwardly coming to realise his homosexuality. The impending Dockers strike and the continuing war in Korea rocks the community and it is difficult to find a light at the end of the tunnel in the lives of these desperate people.
CAST, PERFORMANCES & OPINION
Stephen Lang .... Harry Black
Jennifer Jason Leigh .... Tralala
Burt Young .... Big Joe
Peter Dobson .... Vinnie
Jerry Orbach .... Boyce
Stephen Baldwin .... Sal
Directed by German director Uli Edel who came to wide attention for his hard hitting portrayal of drug abuse in Christiane F (1981) this film is an equally stark and brutal examination of the low life of 50s New York.
All the characters are flawed and many are hard to like. Both in the look of the film much of which is set at night the wet sidewalks reflecting the brash neon street signs along the dirty streets and in the representation of the main characters the film paints a bleak picture of life. An underlying tension pervades through all the scenes and violence is never very far away. There are some very shocking scenes in this film none more so than the climactic end.
Not having read the original novel on which the film is based I cannot comment of how faithful the film is to its source. The subject matter is heavy going and there are few laughs to be had. It could be compared to an earlier classic On the Waterfront (1954) which also dealt with corruption both institutional in the form of the unions and moral. Just like in On the Waterfront the films shows the failure of dreams in the face of the harshness of real life. Last Exit to Brooklyn is however a much darker film and ultimately this unyielding sense of hopelessness does represent a problem with the film.
The acting is uniformly good especially Jennifer Jason Leigh as the stone hearted prostitute who is shocked and confused to find that anyone could actually fall in love with her. Her relationship with the young soldier on his last few days of leave before going off to fight in Korea, which starts on her part as just another trick is key to the story. She recognises and understands the feelings of lust that the soldier shows her, this is within her frame of reference but when he actually proclaims his love she is lost. She is soon forced to look at herself in a new light and ultimately she cant cope with the reality with which she is faced. Early in her career Jennifer Jason Leigh developed a penchant for playing down trodden abused young women often with severe psychological problems and this role certainly fits that mould. As and actress she can play tough aggressive characters but there is always a hint or vulnerability and unstableness deep within which makes her a perfect choice for the self-destructive Tralala.
Stalwart character actors Burt Young and Jerry Orbach play their more stereotypical roles equally well but its Stephen Lang as the closet gay foreman that matches Leigh in giving the best performance of the film. Lang shows the conflict that Harry Black feels when he surrendered to his natural gay sexual inclinations. This is an extremely homophobic community and within the macho world of the dockers this turns to hatred. Black is a product of this society his feeling towards homosexuals have been conditioned in the same way has his peers and yet he knows he is gay and is shamed by it. Its a pity that Lang film career failed to take off in later years.
Desmond Nakano who later went on to write and direct the racial reversal movie White Mans Burden produces an intelligent screenplay full of quickfire dialogue and emotional tension. The most striking aspect of the film are the visual exploration of the run down neighbourhood by use of light of lack of it being most effective when the action take place in the derelict looking docksides. The only time the film lightened up literally is when Tralala spend a day in town with her young soldier but we know that this will not last.
Last Exit To Brooklyn is an emotionally challenging film. The characters defy you to sympathise with them and in the end their plight does win you over. It is a bleak brutal film that will not be to everyones liking. There is strong sexual content and quite explicit violence although neither is ever gratuitous always being in context to the plot. The 18 certificate is certainly deserved as it deals with such adult themes in such an uncompromising way. As I mentioned earlier due to its setting and storyline it does invite comparisons with On The Waterfront the difference being that at its core On The Waterfront does have retain some hope for the lead characters and there is redemption at the very end. Last Exit is remorselessly downbeat and this makes it a tough watch despite its fine performances, intelligent screenplay and striking visuals.
Recommended but you have to be in the mood and be prepared for some violent scenes and strong language.
© Mauri 2006
This is a truly amazing movie. The movie is based on Herbert Selby's cult novel from the early 1960s. The novel traces the lives of some rough urban characters (prostitutes, street hoodlums, transvestites, striking dock workers) in 1950s Brooklyn. Think of this as "On the Waterfront" without the sugar coating. A friend of mine hates the movie because he feels it is nightmarish andlacks a moral center. I like the movie for just this reason, as deep down I think life is that way. The movie is a harsh and uncompromising look at people whose dreams don't work out; in fact, the dreams often explode in the characters' faces. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stephen Lang, Stephen Baldwin, Jerry Orbach and Alexis Arquette are fantastic. Don't watch this with kids or with people with delicate sensibilities---it's violent, sexually graphic, and full of verbal abuse and foul language.