One of the fascinating things about Abel Ferrara is his professional trajectory. To be sure, Could This Be Love, a thirty minute short that was Ferrara’s first crack at serious filmmaking, is a prologue or a forward to what will come after. A low-budget slice of life regarding some authentic New York characters with a lot of Ferrara’s ideas about the lives of artists and the business of art and self-promotion, polyamorous and pansexual relationships, class differences, and the recreational use of drugs as part of the artistic lifestyle are all things Ferrara would continue to examine and turn inside out throughout his career, many times over.
When one examines Could This Be Love from the vantage point of the twilight of Abel Ferrara’s career, it is quite a fascinating look at a restless artist caught between the gutter life of NYC and the refined, erudite social circles of Manhattan. Like Could This Be Love’s main character, Jackie, Ferrara needed (and sort of continues to need) to work both in the streets and with damaged, found objects to make his art truly sing. And this is also why something like Ferrara’s 1979 horror film The Driller Killer is just as discussed in high-end critical circles today as it was cheered on in grindhouse theaters during its initial run.
Could This Be Love’s plot is simple: After being utilized as a subject for a still painting by Jackie (Nadia Von Lowenstein), Cathy (Cassie Holtzberg), a hard-luck prostitute, is rooked by Jackie and her friend, Renee (Dee Dee Rescher), into accompanying them to a dinner party hosted by Jackie’s designer husband, Michael (David Pirell). There, though being passed off as Renee’s cousin, Cathy’s inability to truly blend in with the smug, intellectual crowd absolutely charms the genial Mr. Gatto (Carl Low), a well-heeled businessman who is giving Michael his huge break by stocking Michael’s new shoe design in all twenty-nine of his stores. However, a disdain for Cathy among both hosts and guests bleeds into the atmosphere which slowly sours the mood as the screen fades to black, revealing the film to be a gutter Cinderella story; the ugly stepsisters being uptown cunts who parade the hooker around like some trinket they picked up while slumming it in some Manhattan dive bar only to then be treated like a common whore when the clock strikes twelve and she comes out of her champagne fantasia.
The look of Could This Be Love is all achieved in a very low-fi fabulous mix of smooth camera dollies and grainy interior photography which impresses the artistic side of the film’s characters onto the film itself. It’s as confident in both the Manhattan apartments and the room above the bar due to Ferrara’s grittier background mixing with his formal training in England. Ferrara’s editing is very precise and clean even if the handheld camerawork and fast film stock clearly mark this as an independent piece of work. The stolen tunes by the Rolling Stones (namely, most of “Who’s Driving Your Plane?,” “She Smiled Sweetly,” and a snippet of “Miss Amanda Jones”) also adds a nice touch and lends some capital to Ferrara’s reputation as a rock and rolling maverick of a filmmaker given the fact that he completely swiped these tunes, Keith Richards probably knows, and ultimately shrugged it off and gave Ferrara a pass.
The other nice element to Could This Be Love is that the men characters don’t come into the film until it’s almost halfway over. Ferrara sets this up squarely as a woman’s picture so, when the dudes arrive, hardly any of their issues or concerns are shared by the audience. The exception to this is Mr. Gatto whose scene with Cathy is straight out of John Cassavetes’s Faces (1968) and is just beautifully played between the two actors. Using the topic of archeology as a metaphor, Ferrara casts Cathy as someone who is out in the world and experiencing things as they are, where Gatto believes that intellectuals miss a great deal of life and are generally superficial. Ferrara is flaming the armchair intellectuals in the audience as hard as he is the bourgeois asshole characters in the kitchen; dopey, disaffected sellouts who huddle in blacked-out rooms to do their cocaine while laughing at people like Cathy.
Though like Jackie in looking for artistic inspiration, Ferrara couldn’t be further from her give his true feelings for the people with whom he worked, never treating them nor any of the material like garbage or as if it were beneath him. A true artist at heart, he didn’t balk when he had to make exploitation thrillers, horror films, or sleazy crime dramas and this was most apparent was his commitment to his own artistic compass came in 1976 with his debut film, 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy. From 8mm shorts, to 35mm, to pornography, to sleazy horror and beyond, Ferrara had to fight his way to respectability and did so fair and square and with both fists clenched.
(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain