Lenny (1974)

The central theme in most of Bob Fosse’s films is show business as a metaphor for life. The life he presents in this biographical film is one of rebellion against the tawdry powers that be. Shot in black-and-white, which perfectly captures the world of his characters, Fosse mixed scenes from controversial stand-up comic Lenny Bruce’s life with interviews with his wife (Valerie Perrine), mother (Jan Miner) and agent (Stanley Beck) and re-creations of his most famous routines. In these, Dustin Hoffman shines, capturing the comic’s cadences and timing while adding his own feverish commitment. The scenes progress from the tired jokes of Bruce’s start in burlesque houses and Borscht Belt clubs through his heights as a social commentator to his final days, when he seemed preoccupied with detailing his court battles for obscenity. One bravura scene, shot in one take, is an exact duplicate of a bootleg tape of one of Bruce’s last performances. Lenny was a controversial film with critics: coming only eight years after his death, it was accused, by some, of whitewashing his story to appease family members who were still living. Even so, it scored in the year-end awards, earning six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, and winning Cannes Film Festival and New York Film Critics Awards for Perrine.

(d. Bob Fosse, 111m, 35mm)

In Attendance: Dustin Hoffman, interviewed by Alec Baldwin.