Both Dustin Hoffman and director Bob Fosse came to Lenny, their unsparing biopic of comedian Lenny Bruce at the zenith of their talents, sandwiching it between ”Papillon” and ”All the President’s Men,” and ”Cabaret” and ”All That Jazz,” respectively. No surprise, then, that they, along with Valerie Perrine, gleaned Oscar nominations, as did the film. Too ”blue” for the Borscht Belt, Bruce worked strip clubs and Beat nightclubs, along the way commencing a tortured relationship with stripper-turned-muse-turned-drug buddy Honey Harlowe (Perrine).
It’s fascinating to watch Hoffman’s performance gain in intensity as Bruce’s life disintegrates in a fog of self-absorption, heroin, and paranoia, the latter thanks to the comic’s repeated prosecution (persecution?) on obscenity charges. In the end, Bruce would spend entire gigs incredulously reading his court transcripts to ever more exasperated audiences. As if to drive home Bruce’s legend (he died of an overdose in 1966), Fosse tells Bruce’s story as a faux documentary, interspersing postmortem testimonials from his loved ones with re-creations of his charmingly profane stand-up act — a be-bopping, finger-snapping ”Citizen Kane.” Like that film, ”Lenny”’s DVD reissue dazzles in brilliant black and white; unlike it, the lone special feature is a theatrical trailer. Nothing funny about that.