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By APB Staff Writer
April 2017, New York NY: Though his career as a law enforcement officer who exposed the rampant corruption in the New York City Police Department was depicted in Sidney Lumet’s 1973 drama Serpico – which effectively made Al Pacino a box-office sensation; ex-cop Frank Serpico has never told his own story on film – until now.
Directed by Antonio d’Ambrosio, Frank Serpico shows the 81 year-old reminiscing about his Southern Italian roots, his time as an undercover officer, and life following his exit from the force as an exile in Europe, among other facets of his life which reveal the depth of Serpico’s unique character.
Unlike his peers on the force who had families and resided in the suburbs, Serpico was a city dweller who reveled in the company of artists, writers, and actors – and often attended ballet and opera. In fact, few of Frank’s friends even knew he was a police officer until his name emerged in New York City newspapers which were reporting on the Knapp Commission investigations regarding Serpico’s charges against the NYPD.
The documentary also includes recollections from his fellow officers and childhood friends; Serpico revisiting personal landmarks including the Crown Heights shoe-repair shop, ran by his father, where Frank first experienced police corruption; his old haunts in the West Village; and the Williamsburg building where the whistleblower cop was shot in 1971 – an incident which still remains unresolved.
D’Ambrosio’s initial interest in Serpico was fueled by the best-selling Peter Maas biography Serpico, which served as the template for the Lumet film. He was further inspired by hearing Frank Serpico speak at a 1990 City Council meeting. Back then, the directed noted in his diary – “I will make the Frank Serpico movie one day.” Two decades later, D’Ambrosio sent Serpico an email and a copy of his book A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash, and was invited to visit the ex-cop at his upstate New York farm where the two Italian Americans with similar backgrounds bonded.
Actor John Turturro, an admirer of Frank Serpico since his high school years, reads from Bertolt Brecht’s play, “Life of Galileo” in the documentary. Notes D’Ambrosio regarding the significance of Brecht: “He’s the guy yelling that the world is not flat and people are telling him it is flat, you must be quiet. I wanted to tell that story and show that to the audience and say, would we do what he did? Why don’t we do what he did? What he was fighting against has become embedded in higher systems, the abuse of power has been normalized and accepted.”