Blu-ray Review: Lenny - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Lenny is the biopic of pioneering comedian Lenny Bruce. Released in 1974, the unapologetically uncommercial film boasts a magnetic performance by Dustin Hoffman as Bruce. Director Bob Fosse apparently had no love for Bruce’s stand-up comedy routines. As such, there isn’t a hint of romanticizing to be found in this grimly depressing presentation. Told in non-linear form, a roughly chronological account of Bruce’s life is intercut with faux documentary interviews with Bruce’s ex-wife Honey (Valerie Perrine) and other associates and Bruce’s stand-up performances from various periods.

Lenny cover (215x280).jpgBoutique label Twilight Time has recently added Lenny to their Limited Edition Blu-ray series (strictly limited to 3,000 copies). It’s a captivating portrait about a very important artist. But anyone expecting a funny movie about a funny comedian should probably look elsewhere. At its most basic, the narrative traces an obscurity-to-celebrity path—laced with self-destructive behavior and drugs—not unlike what we’ve seen in dozens of other biopics. But with Bruce representing the line dividing old-school stand-up comedy from what we recognize as modern comedy (i.e. nearly every noteworthy comedian to follow Bruce’s career, which ended with his premature death in 1966 at age 40), the story needed to be told. Perhaps Fosse’s general indifference to Bruce’s comedic legacy made him the ideal choice.

As explained by film historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo in the commentary track, Hoffman bucked Fosse’s explicit directions to simply perform what was in Julian Barry’s screenplay by doing his customarily exhaustive research. Redman and Kirgo also point out places in which artistic liberties have been taken (almost unavoidable, really, in this genre of film). The result of all this is that Lenny, and specifically Hoffman’s extraordinary performance (highlighted by his renditions of Bruce’s intense onstage rants), accomplishes what any good biopic should: it’ll inspire viewers to seek out more about the true life and work of its subject. Certainly special attention must be paid to Perrine’s melancholic interpretation of Honey Bruce’s life. She’s especially natural in the “interview” segments in which Honey reflects on her life with Bruce.

Lenny Valerie Perrine (380x281).jpgTwilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation allows us to drink in the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by Bruce Surtees. The recreations of Bruce’s live act have the look of a documentary, with the high contrast lighting holding up very well in this MGM-sourced transfer. Detail and clarity are generally breathtaking. The DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack offers flawless fidelity. Ralph Burns score is available as an isolated score track.

Twilight Time team members Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, both well-informed film historians, contribute a chatting commentary track. They obviously know their subject well, speaking at length about Fosse, Hoffman, Lenny Bruce, and the overall making of the film. Many of Kirgo’s thoughts are summarized in her essay found in the Blu-ray booklet.

The limited Blu-ray edition of Lenny is available, while supplies last, from Twilight Time’s exclusive distributor Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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