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LennyLenny on DVD

Dustin Hoffman turns in another tour de force performance as comedian Lenny Bruce in this Bob Fosse biopic.

Bruce was the 1950/60's comedian whose language and subject matter got him into all kinds of trouble with the obscenity laws of the time; yet he also paved the way for others who followed, including the likes of George Carlin and his classic bits like "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television" - as well as many comedians who followed.

You learn from this film that Bruce was far more than just a foul mouthed comedian, however. His was social commentary where he skewered perceived hypocrisy wherever he found it - and ended up paying the price for poking at the Establishment with a pointy stick.

Fosse uses a fake documentary style for the film, blending so-called interviews with those who knew Bruce (though mostly his wife Honey, well played by Valerie Perrine) and so-called concert footage of Bruce on stage. The black and white filming is perfect for the period, and the mood, of the film and the cinematography is nothing short of outstanding.

Also outstanding is Hoffman, who doesn't really look like Bruce, but it doesn't matter. Some of the comedy club scenes appear to have been shot in one take, which means Hoffman had to do more than merely act the part from shot to shot; he had to become Lenny Bruce - and he does this masterfully. During one particular scene, when a strung out Bruce staggers onto stage and mumbles a disjointed and tragically unfunny monolog, you really feel as if you're there in the best seat in the balcony (though the tiny club would undoubtedly not have had a balcony) watching this supposed giant self destruct live on stage.

Fosse does a great job of connecting different events in Bruce's life, and showing us how various things that happened to Bruce ended up being part of his commentaries/monologs later on.

Lenny draws you into the life of this comedian and the seedy clubs and people who were his circle. We watch him rise, we see him fall - and we feel for him as his life becomes not only a constant fight with the authorities but with the drugs that threaten to drag him and his wife down to ignominious despair.

Nominated for six Oscars, this is a movie that not only gives some interesting insight into an era, it makes you almost feel as if you were there.

The DVD is very good, though MGM has managed to avoid putting much in the way of extras on it. The black and white picture, which is offered in both anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) and Pan&Scan versions on opposite sides of the disc, is very good. It's sharp and contrasty and perfectly complements the film's setting and subject material.

The audio is Dolby Digital mono and is probably the weakest technical part of the DVD. It works for the movie, however, because it enhances the 1960's documentary feel of the film.

The only extra, unfortunately, is the original theatrical trailer.

Lenny, from MGM Home Video
111 min. amamorphic widescreen (1.85:1)/Pan&Scan, Dolby Digital mono
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Valerie Perrine
Produced by Marvin Worth,
Written by Julian Barry, Directed by Bob Fosse


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Updated May 13, 2006