473 Broadway (center).
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and puritanical sensibilities - outdated even then - that would cause police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
I: Bob Fosse's "Lenny"
about Lenny Bruce
about "The Lenny Bruce Performance Film"