Where does one start with LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN?
Let's start, as many do, with the book. It is without a doubt a literary masterpiece, littered with low-life characters each leading a loveless existence. When I first read it the intense, pulsing, musical style of the prose often left me breathless. The unbearably dark passages that Selby led me down quite frankly infected my psyche. It is an incredible book. "An urgent ticker tape from hell..." wrote one journalist on its release. Amen to that.
When I purchased this DVD I had not seen the movie adaptation and, to be honest, I slapped it in to my DVD player with a little trepidation. I furrowed my brow, convinced that (as with many adaptations) it would simply be a watered down version of the book.
By the end of the movie my doubts were cast aside. This film is a WONDERFUL work of art in its own right. Director Uli Edel has done a fine job in bringing the book's characters to life. Basically there are three stories running side by side :- the story of Harry Black, union leader and repressed homosexual. He is locked in a marriage with a wife and child and the situation is crushing his very soul. Secondly, we have the story of Tralala, a hooker who lures sailors in to dark alleyways where hoodlums await with blunt instruments. Thirdly, we have the story of Big Joe who refuses to acknowledge that his daughter is eight months pregnant. Each character has a destiny. I will not say here whether their individual fates are positive or negative. Let's just say during the movie I felt that I genuinely cared what happened to these characters.
This is a superb film, largely thanks to a superb cast (Burt Young and Jerry Orbach are particularly good) and excellent direction. The Brooklyn of 1952 presented here is relentlessly brutal and unforgiving, with the streets looking uninviting, dark and desolate. Steam rises off blood soaked sidewalks. Bars, dense with smoke, are riddled with drunken sailors, aggressive hoods and oppurtunistic hookers. Characters are violently attacked in lurid detail.....I suspect this all sounds RATHER BLEAK? Well...it certainly is, but I must say that within the bleak quagmire is the all important element of hope. All is not lost. Some of these people are not beyond redemption, and therein lies the power of the film. It is an extremely notable adaptation of one of my all time favourite books. If you haven't seen it...DO SO!
Disc 2 of this package offers another huge treat: "It/ll Be Better Tomorrow", a feature length documentary about the life and works of LAST EXIT author Hubert Selby Jr. This documentary is utterly fascinating, touching on Selby's turbulent life from birth to death. This is unmissable stuff for the devout Selby fan. It is crammed with interesting factoids and covers pretty much everything you need to know about Selby's literature and the man himself. Basically, watching this documentary has made me want to revisit all of Selby's books again (most of them are incredible.)
All in all, a superb 2 disc package. A remarkable movie and a superb companion piece documentary. For the current price, this package is an absolute steal. A must for Selby devotees and newcomers alike.
Also recommended: Darren Aronofsky's terrifying film version of Selby's masterpiece REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. But that's another story...............