Arrow Release: The Addiction (1995), Abel Ferrara

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The Film:

Addiction plays a key role in many of Abel Ferrara’s films, acting as some unseen force that gnaws and whittles away at the human spirit. The director’s first film, The Driller Killer [’79], features a starving artist – played by Ferrara – who is overcome by the urge to murder vagrants with a power tool in the name of sanity and art. In his controversial exploitation film Ms. 45 [’81], revenge consumes a mute seamstress (played by the late Zoe Lund) who is brutally raped multiple times before taking matters into her own hand. In The King of New York [’90], a newly released drug lord is overtaken by greed in order to rise to the top of New York Cities crime syndicate, while drugs reign over a corrupt cop in Bad Lieutenant [’92]. Addiction consumes the characters of Ferrara’s New York City to the point of hopelessness and destruction, where the very thing they are chasing eventually kills them.

In The Addiction, Kathleen (Lili Taylor), a young philosophy student at New York University, is dragged into a back alley and bitten on the neck by a woman named Casanova (Annabella Sciorra). Shortly after, Kathleen begins experiencing typical traits of vampirism – aversion to sunlight, loss of appetite, a hunger for blood – and begins preying on victims of the streets. When she attempts to abduct a man for blood, she is introduced to Peina (Christopher Walken), a vampire who has learned to concur some of the habits of the addiction, and who instructs her own ways of coping (he tells her to read William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch).

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Ferrara, who dabbled with heroin during filming – he would eventually come clean 14 years later and turn to Buddhism – uses the vampire mythos to weave a stark metaphor on the uncontrollable habit of addiction, once again turning to the streets of New York City . Kathleen maneuvers in between the raw point and shoot style filming that Ferrara (and many ways Jim Jarmusch) gravitate towards, capturing life on the streets most filmmakers don’t. This is the other side of town from the likes of Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen, where drug addiction and poverty are engrained in the sidewalk. When Kathleen and her friend Jean (Edie Falco) navigate the blocks in between their school and home, they’re cat-called and coerced by men who line the convenient stores.

Ferrara and cinematographer Ken Kelsch (a regular on Ferrara’s films) roam the streets like vampires, coexisting with its creatures in a raw, uninhibited way. A lot of the focus is put on the life that makes up New York City, which makes it feel as if we’re watching life unfold while a story of a vampire moves around it. Even when Kathleen sits in the waiting room, having gone to the hospital after her attack, Kelsch frames her next to an injured man with as much importance and focus as our soon-to-be addict. It’s an attention to the people that addiction consumes which gives the film its hypnotic allure, pulling us into a world that exists outside the confines of the story. These are people who survive off the life their community and the city give, who unwillingly give Kathleen life when she is no longer in control.

Composer Joe Delia (another regular on Ferrara’s films) strikes moody and atmospheric piano keys and horror-laden hums amidst hip-hop tunes of the 90’s from the likes of Onyx and Cypress Hill. Similarly to Jarmusch and his urban infused samurai tale Ghost Dog [’99], The Addiction works at remixing the vampire with a modern spin. These are songs that were born from the streets, from living and breathing the drugs of the Reagan area that were shoved into the low income houses of the city. Kathleen lives between these ideas of poverty and addiction, though it never affects her until she’s given a taste, which finds her facing a reality as stark as the imagery she’s exposed to in class.

Corpses of Vietnamese men, women and children from the war filter through her subconscious mind, which paints the world in an unjust and harrowing way. It’s a realization that’s wrongful and gratuitous, haunting Kathleen, which makes her feel disgust over a society that feeds off the living. When she eventually turns – after a sweat induced night that resembles withdrawal – she becomes the very thing that disgusted her; a product of anger and fear. Kathleen preys on whoever she can get her hands on – her professor, a fellow student, one of the men who cat-called her – to exert a dominance over their weakness. She demands that they tell her to go away, to overcome their fear, and when they don’t (none of them do), she feeds off their inability to stop her.

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Kathleen consumes and revels in that hypnotic draw of early stage vampirism, which extends its hand in a seductive manner that suggests you won’t get hurt. When she meets Peina, it’s the first time she’s confronted with the idea of eternity, of what a lifelong habit looks like, even if he’s lived long enough to be able to consume actual food.

Lili Taylor (I Shot Andy Warhol [’96] embodies this addiction with eyes that convey years of experience, despite the actress having never tried heroin. Shadows and light trace themselves over her pristine features that stare blankly through us, almost as if she’s searching for a way out before it consumes all of her.

And it almost does beneath the stark black and whites, which hides a poetic darkness that feels as uncut and powerful as the drug that would eventually consume Ms. 45 star Zoe Lund (who overdosed in 1999), and that would eventually control Ferrara’s own life. Where the directors previous films used violent and fatal metaphors to convey its themes, The Addiction illustrates it with broad strokes, shining a light on hope and redemption by turning to the shadows and pulsating life of New York City. And in many ways, despite the blackness of its images and tone, it remains Abel Ferrara’s most optimistic film, allowing for self-revelation to succeed where death and disarray once reigned king, suggesting that there is hope and life for the addicted after all.

Bonus Materials:

An in depth interview with Brad Stevens, a British film critic and novelist, which includes Monte Hellman: His Life and Films, as well as a thorough and revealing interview with the director, Abel Ferrara, who provides a detailed commentary for the film alongside Brad Stevens. There’s a new and brilliantly informative documentary called Talking with the Vampires that features interviews with actors Lili Taylor and Christopher Walken (who kicks off the interview with a very Walken thing to do), composer Joe Delia, cinematographer Ken Kelsch and Abel Ferrara (ya dig?), who openly discuss everything from their own personal accounts to the films New York City setting and what it means to be an addict. Lastly, Abel Ferrara takes us behind the scenes and into the editing room with rare, archival footage from the time of the films production.

Specs:

  • New restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative by Arrow Films, approved by director Abel Ferrara and DOP Ken Kelsch
  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
  • Restored 5.1 audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Original trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by critic Michael Ewins
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