Saturday, February 23, 2013

Spinell: King of Dirty New York

He had a face (pockmarked, craggy, and often greasy) and a voice (shrill and heavy on the New Yawkese) that you couldn't forget and which he lent to over 60 films and television programs.  He made films all over the country, probably most famously as Gazzo in the Philly-filmed Rocky and Rocky II and sometimes even trying on an accent (as in the Alabama-set Stay Hungry), but it's the gallery of New York sleazebags, cops, mafiosi, cabbies, and psychopaths that Joe Spinell so memorably essayed throughout the '70s and '80s that are his greatest legacy.  The man was prolific in his prime--aside from their Academy Award competition, Taxi Driver and Rocky don't share much...except for Joe Spinell.  All of this support work was leading to his pièce de résistance, Frank Zito, the title character in William Lustig's infamous Maniac, a labor of love co-written by Spinell, filmed on the pre-gentrified streets of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, and targeted (upon its release) as an object of everything wrong with cinema and current societal mores by media figures such as Siskel and Ebert.  (Of course, this now seems rather hyperbolic and humorous, especially when one views all of the related, vintage news reports collated on the Maniac special edition Blu-ray and DVD.)

But personal issues, health problems, and addiction slowed him down and eventually killed him at 52, when he tragically bled to death alone in his Sunnyside apartment due to his hemophilia.

This video is a short tribute to this fine character actor and uniquely New York personality.  It contains only scenes from his NYC movies and opens with part of Patrolman DiSimone's (Spinell) brilliant diatribe at the start of Cruising, which taken either within or outside of the film, functions as a fascinating statement on the ugly, decaying New York of the time (a place which many New Yorkers bemoaned then, and which, conversely, many now mourn the loss of). There are a few more relevant clips I plan to add when I have access to them on DVD.


Dick said...

Excellent video ! I love it. Really enjoyed The Seven Ups clip, my favorite Spinell role and one of my favorite movies. Great work and a nice piece on a the ultimate 70's NYC actor.

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks, Dick! Your compliments mean a lot. Spinell is in good form in SEVEN-UPS, indeed, along with some wacko costumes. There was a 35mm screening of SEVEN-UPS in NYC recently and I was able to help bring in real-life "Seven-Up"-turned-movie guy Randy Jurgensen to do a intro and q & a.