Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lenny: A Film by Bob Fosse

Initial response to Luis Buñuel's L’Âge d’or / The Golden Age (1930) included physical attacks in movie theatres by fascists and other "right wing" types offended by its subversive freedom of expression and satire of "traditional values." The film was pulled from general circulation -- globally. It wasn't even widely available in the United States until 1979 and after!

Move the clock forward from 1930 through the rest of the 20th century. The use of napalm, atomic weapons and poison gas on the one hand, the freedom to use words on the other, and civil rights, human rights in general. It seems that even now in the early 21st century, many people in the US are far more concerned about Second Amendment (especially gun rights) than First Amendment rights -- i.e. freedom of speech, writing, publishing and assembly. Between the time of Buñuel's early work and the 1960s, the imposition of Hollywood Codes and various "official" policies around the US chilled serious and comedic exercise of freedom.

The situation changed only when people challenged the new status quo. As Frederick Douglass framed it in 1857, "power concedes nothing without a demand." He also observed this: "If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."

In free speech matters during the mush years, Lenny Bruce (1925-1966) became one of the demanders. He pushed and pushed, using "blue language," spotlighting hypocrisy in social mores, questioning American society's tolerance of violence vs. its treating sex like a "dirty shameful thing." He challenged the status quo directly and helped liberate the use of language in the USA.

Bob Fosse's Lenny (1974) is a good place to see how events played out. Lenny Bruce was arrested, charged, fined, banned and convicted along the way. He died of a drug overdose in 1966 and, at least in New York State, was only officially "pardoned" in 2003!

Even while he was alive, Lenny Bruce's influence was immediate and not just among the ranks of comics (George Carlin et alia). Take Jim Morrison, for example, and go from there. Even now Home Box Office (HBO) has the spirit, for instance.

Today's Rune: Warrior.     


1 comment:

jodi said...

Erik, how on earth have I missed this movie? Sounds like one I would love!