San Francisco in Cinema: The Lenny Bruce Performance Film

473 Broadway (center).
The Lenny Bruce Performance Film is a one hour set, Bruce's next-to-last, captured by director John Magnuson at the Basin Street West (473 Broadway) in August, 1965. The video release includes "Thank You Mask Man," an animated short by Bruce and Magnuson. The stand-up performance is widely misunderstood. This isn't a straight comedy set per se. Rather, it's an eye-opening lecture on free speech in America in the 1960s. On the Basin Street West stage, Bruce alternately reads from court transcripts of his act, and recreates the jokes he actually told. When compared with the government's attempt to characterize his act, the real comedy bits shed light on the ludicrous and puritanical sensibilities - outdated even then - that would cause police and district attorneys to target a comedian for obscenity prosecution. The performance film is sometimes criticized because Bruce, who died of a heroin overdose less than a year later, is sometimes hard to follow and is probably high. However, Bruce is a good example of an artist who became the art. For example, recordings of Billie Holiday while she was in decline cannot be justly compared to more polished performances. Like the Bruce film, those recordings exist as artifacts from the life and times of a great artist whose influence on new performers continues into the 21st Century.

Detail I: Bob Fosse's "Lenny"
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