Last Exit to Brooklyn
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Last Exit to Brooklyn is a 1964 novel by American author Hubert Selby, Jr. The novel has become a cult classic because of its harsh, uncompromising look at lower class Brooklyn in the 1950s and for its brusque, everyman style of prose.
Although critics and fellow writers praised the book on its release, Last Exit to Brooklyn caused much controversy due to its frank portrayals of taboo subjects, such as drug use, street violence, gang rape, homosexuality, transvestism and domestic violence. It was the subject of an important obscenity trial in the United Kingdom and was banned in Italy.
There had been several attempts to adapt Last Exit to Brooklyn into a film. One of the earliest attempts was made by producer Steve Krantz and animator Ralph Bakshi, who wanted to direct a live-action film based on the novel. Bakshi had sought out the rights to the novel after completing Heavy Traffic, a film which shared many themes with Selby's novel. Selby agreed to the adaptation and actor Robert De Niro accepted the role of Harry in Strike. According to Bakshi, "the whole thing fell apart when Krantz and I had a falling out over past business. It was a disappointment to me and Selby. Selby and I tried a few other screenplays after that on other subjects, but I could not shake Last Exit from my mind."
In 1989, director Uli Edel adapted the novel into a film. The screenplay was written by Desmond Nakano. The movie starred Stephen Lang as Harry Black, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Tralala, Burt Young as Big Joe, Peter Dobson as Vinnie, and Jerry Orbach as Boyce, as well as Stephen Baldwin and future star Sam Rockwell in small roles. Selby made a cameo appearance in the film as the taxi driver who accidentally hits the transvestite Georgette (played by Alexis Arquette). Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits provided the film score. The film version received excellent reviews and won a few critics' awards for Leigh's portrayal of Tralala, though its limited distribution and downbeat subject matter prevented it from becoming a commercial success. Ralph Bakshi referred to Edel's film as being "like a hot dog without mustard," saying that the film "was done horribly."