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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: January 5th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1974

Lenny (1974) – Imprint Limited Edition

Overview -

Hollywood biopics are almost too numerous to count. However, good biopics are relatively few and far between. Cast among the best of the drama sub-genre, Bob Fosse’s Lenny chronicles the troubled times of famed incendiary comedian Lenny Bruce starring Dustin Hoffman and Valerie Perrine. It’s a stellar production that gives a warts-and-all look into the funnyman’s life with incredible performances to bring it to life. Imprint brings the film to Blu-ray with an excellent A/V presentation and great extras - Highly Recommended

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Limited edition Blu-ray of 1500 units
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.85:1
Audio Formats:
English LPCM 2.0
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Release Date:
January 5th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

As a general rule, I don’t particularly like Biopics. On occasion, if the main subject is an interesting figure, a film about their life can be worthwhile and enjoyable. More often than not I find the subgenre to be overly vapid, boring, all too complimentary towards its subject, and then exists for easy Oscar nomination bait. For every The Last Emperor made there are about two dozen films like Bohemian Rapsody or A Beautiful Mind. So when I find a biopic that’s genuinely good and feels authentic toward its target I tend to cherish it. Bob Fosse’s 1974 film Lenny is one of the few I actually celebrate.

Based on the play by Julian Barry (he also wrote the film’s screenplay), the film jumps between periods in Lenny Bruce’s life. The film opens with a bearded Dustin Hoffman nailing one of Lenny Bruce’s later performances slinging jokes about any number of taboo topics with any amount of “obscene language.” Within moments of this sequence and credits, we fly back in time to a younger clean-shaved Lenny Bruce struggling as a new comic. Back and forth the film floats between these two periods of Bruce in peak incendiary form and meeting his wife Honey (Valerie Perrine), his introduction to drugs, and his rise as a comic who refuses to play it clean. In between these moments are some brilliant interview recreations with the cast as older versions of their characters shedding light and depth to the life of Lenny Bruce. 

If I have one complaint with this film, and granted this is more of a modern-times issue than anything else, it's that it assumes the audience should know who Lenny Bruce is and why he’s so important from the jump. Granted, this film came out in 1974, Bruce had only been dead from an overdose for about eight years. He was still a fresh cultural figure so this approach fits that period, but flash forward fifty years and newcomers may not get why Bruce was so important. Those youngsters out there who've gone through The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel might have some familiarity with the name and his issues, but largely he's a lost figure in modern conversations. I don't quite recall how I heard about Bruce or why when I was a teenager, but it got me interested in tracking down books about him and recordings of his comedy acts (it was a lot harder to do before the internet!). So I had a little familiarity going into Fosse's film, but even then I thought the approach was a bit jarring.

Now, since this isn’t the first time we’ve reviewed this film, I’m going to direct you to our old colleague Steven Cohen’s review of the Twilight Time Blu-ray from 2014. As I was drafting my own I realized I was basically just repeating a version of what he had to say. So go ahead and read that review here. I'll leave things on the note I started with that by and large I dislike Biopics but Lenny is one of the few exceptions. Hoffman delivers one of his best performances and the pseudo-documentary styling and black-and-white photography give the film a visceral raw feeling that's in keeping with the man it's about. 



Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Thanks to Australia’s Imprint Films, Lenny takes the stage for a new single-disc Blu-ray release. Pressed on a Region Free BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a clear case with slipcase artwork with spine number 286. The disc loads to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.

Video Review

Ranking:

For this release of Lenny I have to assume that Imprint used the same master as the Twilight Time disc. No information about the date of the scan or restoration was included. It’s been a few years since I last saw that disc, I missed out on buying it when it was available but borrowed it from a friend ages ago so as hazy as it is I’m working from memory. Now Bruce Surtees’ cinematography is supposed to look like a faux documentary. It’s rough around the edges, it goes in and out of focus, and the film grain structure can shift making it feel like different film stock was used in between takes. Speckling comes and goes making the aged appearance look intentional. It’s an impressive-looking film, to say the least, and the black-and-white photography is often stunning. The grayscale can shift between bright blaring white and deep crushed-out blacks when Lenny is on stage to soft light gradients and subtle shadows during his backstory.

Audio Review

Ranking:

Leading the audio options is an excellent LPCM 2.0 mono track. Dialog is clean and clear throughout. Some sections are meant to sound like dirty underground club recordings, sections that are supposed to sound like rough interview tapes, and then full scenes that sound like a polished true Hollywood production. That’s all by design. Sound effects within the clubs give a nice sense of place and scale with clinking glasses, giggles and laughs, and the muffled voices of people talking behind the stage performance. Scoring isn’t too intrusive, minimally used with a melancholic jazz/blues style to fill the soundscape.

Special Features

Ranking:

Bonus features for this release are a nice swath of archival and new extras. A welcome inclusion for this set are the Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo commentary and the Isolated score track from the Twilight Time disc. The commentary isn’t chock-full of insights but it’s a nice listen and helps put a lot of behind-the-scenes production drama into context. New for this disc is another interesting commentary featuring Daniel Kremer and Henry Jaglom. They do cover some of the same ground as the Redman/Kirgo effort but they have some of their own anecdotes and trivia to share. The interview with editor Alan Heim is very good and very interesting. The “Dead Neon” mini-doc is an interesting look at Fosse’s Lenny in various films but at half an hour it doesn’t feel very focused and meanders around quite a bit to some very loose connections. 

  • Audio Commentary featuring Daniel Kremer and Henry Jaglom
  • Audio Commentary featuring Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo
  • Dead Neon: The Many Faces of Lenny Bruce on Film (HD 29:04)
  • On Fosse Time: Editing Lenny - Interview with Alan Heim (HD 22:17)
  • Trailers From Hell - Featuring Robert Weide (HD 4:28)
  • Theatrical Trailer

Bob Fosse's Lenny is a true powerhouse of a Biopic. Generally, I feel the genre can feel like simple vapid award bait with a hot actor or actress doing a damned amazing impression of a recent historical figure. In the case of Lenny, staged as something of a pseudo-documentary with impeccably executed reenactments, the film has a raw visceral quality that like Lenny Bruce himself is simply magnetic. Impeccably directed, acted, edited, written - everything really; it's one of the best movies in Fosse's short career as a director and one fo the best of its era. The film returns to Blu-ray thanks to Australia's Imprint Films with a great A/V presentation and an excellent assortment of new and archival extra features. Highly Recommended