Oct 16, 2012

Spike of Bensonhurst

Admittedly, I have a soft-spot for Italian-American greaseballs, especially when they are as ill-tempered, self-centered, and idiotic yet charismatic as the character Spike Fumo (played by Roman-like Sasha Mitchell; a man of Russian-Jewish descent) featuring in the Paul Morrissey film Spike of Bensonhurst (1988) aka The Mafia Kid. On top of being blessed with mostly Italian blood (he is ¼ Irish), Spike has a mother who is dabbling in lipstick lesbianism and an inmate father who is taking the rap for local mafia boss Baldo Cacetti (Ernest Borgnine), who apparently brutalized some hookers that were really male cops in drag. An ambitious young man who dreams of being a professional boxer, even if the fights are rigged, Spike fancies and inevitablly impregnates blonde-haired Italian princess Angel (Maria Pitillo); the daughter of Mr. Cacetti. Although the small-time Mafioso likes Spike as an individual, he sees the aspiring boxer as nowhere good enough for his daughter, thus banishing the soon-to-be-father of his grandson to Red Hook, Brooklyn; a rough Puerto Rican neighborhood full of impoverishment, gutter-level criminality, and mafia-inflicted vice. Undoubtedly, Paul Morrissey’s most accessible and conventional film to date, even if it is positively politically incorrect, Spike of Bensonhurst – which is like Rocky (1976) meets Baby It's You (1983) meets Mixed Blood (1985) in its urban multicultural melodrama, except with a more sophisticated sociopolitical subtext – should at least be as popular as John Hughes’ films like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Pretty in Pink (1986) as it is certainly a 1980s cult comedy of the highest caliber, yet is only championed by those individuals that are blessed enough to have seen it. More confident, slightly more intelligent, and assuredly more ambitious than Rocky Balboa, Spike Fumo takes crime boss Baldo Cacetti's advice: “You're Italian…You gotta go out in the world and make something of yourself.” Unfortunately for Mr. Cacetti, Spike’s personal aspirations are bad for the family; both criminal and personal.

  The Cosa Nostra neighborhood of “Little Italy” Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in Spike of Bensonhurst is not exactly same as it was during the early 20th century when it was a haven for less than prosperous Italian and Jewish immigrants. Indeed, the Dago district is still full of Italians and a couple Jews, but they now are an integral part of mainstream America, especially when it comes to left-wing political influence. Even the local Mafioso Baldo Cacetti admits he runs a respectable front, remarking to Spike of Bensonhurst protagonist Spike, “Hey, I even support the liberal politicians…All that garbage.” It is mentioned in the film that one of the mafia boys even goes to a Live Aid to heighten the absurdity of bourgeois ‘boldness, bluster, swagger’ in this extraordinary wop-exploitation flick. When protagonist Spike is exiled by Mr. Cacetti to the Puerto Rican neighborhood of Red Hook – a place of pandemic poverty, hungry children, and low-life drug dealers – he is transported to virtual old school Little Italy where a new generation of foreign tan people hope to achieve the American dream just like his Sicilian ancestors did only a couple generations ago. The Puerto Ricans are the ‘new Guineas’ and egomaniacal, machoman Spike sees it as his duty to civilize them by teaching the block’s children the ‘Brooklyn alphabet’ (“Fuckin’ A, Fuckin’ B, Fuckin’ C…) and by beating up dawdler drug dealers, which inevitably catches the attention of Mr. Cacetti, who finances and profits from the drug operation in the neighborhood. Almost immediately upon relocating to Red Hook, Spike moves in with rival boxer Bandana’s (Rick Aviles) family, which is actively promoted by the grande dame (Antonia Rey) of the household, who cites great Italian heroes like “Caesar" and "Mussolini” as a sign of her deep admiration for the Italian people. Bandana’s mother is not the only one that likes narcissistic newcomer Spike because soon the Italian stallion has impregnated the daughter of the house, India (Talisa Soto), who was named in tribute to brown-people-liberator Mahatma Gandhi. Saucy Spike makes no qualms about expressing his sense of superiority to Bandana and his people, stating quite shamelessly, “seeing as I come from a more advanced culture as yourself, I want to tell you that we Italians would never let ourselves become the victims of these politicians and good damned drug dealers like you people. Forget about it!” Despite attending a Bar Mitzah for the son of corrupt congressman Bernstein that is full of Mafioso’s, little does Spike realize, that it is his goombah crime boss relatives and family friends who are pumping drugs into the neighborhoods and in bed with (both literally and figuratively) the corrupt liberal politicians that he so thoroughly and vocally despises. In the end, hardheaded Spike, the son of a “Sicilian lowlife,” is able to reconcile the differences from his less than esteeming blood relations (his own mother calls him a “Pussy. Asshole. Fuck..”) and his adopted, less economically advantaged yet more loving Puerto Rican family. 

 Ultimately, Spike of Bensonhurst is an atypically ‘light-hearted’ and sometimes sentimental comedy by the almost exclusively sardonic Paul Morrissey with a positive message about the power and importance of family, even if they happen to be of the criminally-inclined and verbally/physically abusive kind. That being said, Spike of Bensonhurst is no less socio-politically astute than Morrissey’s previous works, but even more so as expressed by the film's clever depiction of mafia-politician and Italian-Jewish political ties, thus beating Hollywood at their own cryptic-comedy game (e.g. American Pie series, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle). Featuring a colorful cast of characters that would foretell the spoiled Guido cretinism as depicted by the real-life dumbass Dagos of the pathetically popular MTV reality show Jersey Shore (2009-present), Spike of Bensonhurst – although a satirically jovial work with rather ridiculous scenarios – offers a very true portrait of an America (criminal) political force that is not often seen by the WASP majority. Personally, as someone who attended college with the sort of overindulged, monetarily posh yet culturally uncultivated Italian-Americans featured in Spike of Bensonhurst and that are akin to puerile pretty boy Spike, are only a kickback away from total barbarism, but that is what the American dream is all about; going from rags to riches by any means possible – be it violent criminality or being a big enough putz to actually work hard for your earnings.  Instead of starting a career pirating hardcore pornography as suggested by his Sicilian spiritual father Mr. Cacetti, Spike opts for a more honest, hardworking, blue-collar career as New York's finest; a true blue man in blue.  I like to think that the character of Spike – a man who brought order to America' urban third world – holds a special place in Paul Morrissey's iron Roman Catholic heart.

-Ty E

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