I was a teenager when I found out exactly who Lenny Bruce was, and it took me only about 15 seconds before my sympathy for the unjustly vilified comedian was replaced with anger. "Wait, they arrested the guy ... for using profanity. More than three times. Uh-huh. And every time he went back to the stage to earn a living, there were cops waiting in the wings to give the guy some trouble. Damn. And then the guy kills himself with a drug overdose at the age of 40, despite the fact that he was one of the most talented and insightful comedians of his day. Damn, this is a miserable story."
Those who'd like to learn a bit about the man Lenny Bruce was could rent the Bob Fosse / Dustin Hoffman film Lenny, check out a copy of Bruce's own How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, or dig up one of several worthwhile biographies. The guy was a genius, a wicked wit, and a performer so obviously ahead of his time that it makes one sad to think about it. But Bruce's legal trouble paved the way for future comedians, as his landmark court cases would create numerous legal citations protecting free speech.
So on top of everything else, Lenny Bruce was kind of a hero. This was a comedian who took no prisoners. The clear forefather of guys like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Chris Rock, Lenny Bruce pissed a lot of people off by pointing out the foibles and hypocrisies of the U.S. government, the church, racism, drugs, sexuality, and whatever else he had the balls to say out loud in a crowded room circa 1961.
Lenny Bruce's Performance Film is a footage of the guy's second-to-last public performance. It took place in a small San Francisco night-club, and if the ticket-buyers showed up expecting a non-stop laugh riot, they just might have gone home disappointed. Bruce's material on this evening consisted of not much more than rants, raves, and specific anecdotes about his numerous court cases and struggles with our legal system. The visibly perturbed performer just rattles on about witnesses this and transcripts that, and if it weren't for the obvious fact that Lenny Bruce was dealt such an amazingly raw deal, this performance would be accurately described as manic, indulgent, and sad.
And it is sad. Terribly sad that a talented man was hounded into unemployment, depression, and death, just because he had the audacity to use "dirty words" in front of adults congregating at a night-time comedy show. Sounds like something from the 1700's, doesn't it? It was 1964.
Worthwhile mainly as a historical piece for the old-school Lenny Bruce buffs, the 60-minute Performance Film is infinitely more heartbreaking than it is funny, but this man deserves to be remembered (and remembered fondly) for his struggles, so I say well done to Koch Vision for pulling this footage from someone's dusty old vault.
Video: We're talking about B&W footage shot by a spectator in 1965. Picture quality simply isn't so hot, but that won't bother the folks who'd want to own this concert film anyway.
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono. The performance is clearly audible, but it's nothing that'll tax your speakers too much.
Extras: Also included is a 7-minute short film from John Magnuson entitled Thank You Mask Man, in which one of Bruce's trademark bits is set to amusing animation. A cool addition, plus it was a classy move on Magnuson's part to give Mr. Bruce a posthumous co-directing credit.
There's a 4-disc CD collection out there called The Lenny Bruce Originals, which is where you'll find the guy's most brilliant work. From there you can move on to Fosse's biopic, Bruce's own book, and a biography of your own picking. Then sit down with this Performance Film and tell me the guy didn't deserve a better fate.