Spike Of Bensonhurst

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In pre-Giuliani New York, Spike (Sasha Mitchell) is an up and coming boxer looking to climb the ranks of Baldo Cacetti’s (Ernest Borgnine) criminal organization. First Spike tries to get Cacetti’s daughter Angel (Maria Pitillo) pregnant but when that fails Spike is “exiled” from Bensonhurst. He relocates to Red Hook where he falls in love with India (Talisa Soto), gets her pregnant and becomes a grassroots social reformer.

Spike Of Bensonhurst (1988) is filmmaker Paul Morrissey’s return to the milieu of Mixed Blood (1984). Morrissey’s satirical eye sees every character as a stereo type and directs his actors to play their parts as campily as possible. Politicians are crooked, the Mob functions like a corporation and the Italian and Puerto Rican neighborhoods are populated with characters that have seemingly been discarded from West Side Story (1961) for being too over the top. No one is safe and nothing is sacred in Spike Of Bensonhurst.

The broad acting style and on the nose dialogue that typified Morrissey’s early films is wielded here as an update of the tactics employed by Richard F. Outcault in his comic strips. While Morrissey’s distinct style minimizes emotional investment, it optimizes the potential for laughs. Morrissey deconstructs the conventions of every genre he’s worked in, including Spike Of Bensonhurst. Morrissey locates the dramatic beats and political agendas of late eighties coming-of-age indie films and blasts them apart with high camp and a unique fidelity to the culture of the communities depicted in the film.

While plot and performance are consistently cartoonish, Morrissey fills Spike Of Bensonhurst with specific locations and Coati Mundi’s pop music score. This juxtaposition of caricature with ethnic authenticity is part of a careful balancing act. Morrissey’s satire derives both its legitimacy and impact from the respect that Morrissey shows to the neighborhoods of Red Hook and Bensonhurst. Where Morrissey’s balance falters is in his treatment of drugs which reflects his conservative streak and conforms to Reagan political ideologies.

Big, loud, and controversial, Spike Of Bensonhurst isn’t a film for everyone. Morrissey’s roots in the Underground Cinema of the sixties allowed him to cultivate a style that is as unique as it is at odds with the Hollywood norms of the day. Long out of print, Spike Of Bensonhurst is well worth seeking out for fans of Morrissey but more generally for connoisseurs of films that utilize alternate forms of narrative story telling. But the real signature of a Paul Morrissey film is that Joe Dallesandro “type” that Sasha Mitchell fills quite well.