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20

SUNDAY

Even 23 years after his death, the Establishment would give Lenny Bruce no rest. In the final edition of the respected Halliwell’s Film Guide produced before his 1989 death, British film historian Leslie Halliwell could see no more clearly than to term Bruce “the obscene comedian” and dismiss Lenny, Bob Fosse’s 1974 biopic, as “emotionally hollow” and “rampant with the new permissiveness.” Actually, Lenny manages to capture the emotionally raw life Bruce lived, thanks to Dustin Hoffman’s able performance and Bruce Surtees’ striking black-and-white cinematography. As in all Hollywood biographies, there’s more melodrama than truth, though Bruce’s real life did not lack for heat: Toward the end, Bruce’s act consisted largely of outraged readings from transcripts of his various obscenity trials. Fosse captures this desperate sadness in a single, excruciatingly long take that is as draining for the audience as it must have been for Hoffman. Bear witness when the film screens at 8:55 p.m. (see Showtimes for other dates) at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Dave Nuttycombe)