Sunday, March 10, 2013
KING OF COMEDY, THE
(February 1983, U.S.)
Martin Scorsese may be one of the most unpredictable and versatile filmmakers in existence today; you simply just never know what he's going to give you in between the material you come to expect from him. By 1983, with the Scorsese-DeNiro partnership firmly in place, film like MEAN STREETS (1973), TAXI DRIVER (1976) and RAGING BULL gave audiences a more than general idea of what these two could do together. But then, on the other hand, films like NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977) and THE KING OF COMEDY would take you in a different direction, and yet, at the same time nothing would change. Let me try to explain in my own way...
If there's one constant in all of the Scorsese-DeNiro films, it's the psychological and rather creepy uncertainty that DeNiro's character persistently brings to the screen. Be it Travis Bickle or Jake LaMotta, you simply never know what's going to provoke his character's persona and what the outcome (perhaps violent) may be. In this film which tells of celebrity worship and the American media culture, it's very clear that the ideas behind them are hanging by a very loose thread, even during a time before the internet and YouTube. Rupert Pupkin (played by De Niro), a stage-door autograph hound, is an aspiring stand-up comedian whose ambition far exceeds his paltry talent. After meeting his television hero Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis), a successful comedian and talk show host, Rupert believes his big show business break has finally come to him. He attempts to get a place on the show, but is continually rebuffed by Langford's staff and, finally, by Langford himself. Along the way, Rupert indulges in elaborate and obsessive fantasies where he and Langford are colleagues and close friends. He even takes a date to Langford's summer home, uninvited, trying to impress her. The negative actions and rejections by Jerry are traditionally typical in the world of show business, I'm sure, but when you're dealing with a less-than-completely-stable character that Robert DeNiro is so gifted at portraying, you just don't know how Rupert will react or what he'll do to get what he wants (seriously, would YOU want to be the one to tell Robert DeNiro "no thank you" and ask him to leave the building??). It's also important to realize that Rupert is ultimately the "hero" of this film, and in the end, no matter how it might happen, we want him to succeed at his comedic dream. It's also a natural instinct or perhaps even a guilty pleasure to watch a snotty, stuck-up, inhuman celebrity like Jerry Langford get what's coming to him.
So, the question still remains - how do you finally get your big break when no one in the business will listen to you? Simple...you kidnap the big man himself (Jerry), bind him up with a hilariously-huge amount of duct tape, force your way onto the show with your act and then let the pieces fall where they may. Along the way, he also gets the help of fellow stalker and Langford-lover, Masha (played by the ever-annoying Sandra Bernhard). By the time the two of them have succeeded in their plan with Jerry, Rupert has made himself and his comedy routinge well known on late night television. Despite arrest and jail time, he's come out of it with a successful book and the notoriety he's always wanted.
Now, here's the real unexpected kick of the film. Having watched Rupert's rather unpredictable, unstable and over-the-top behavior throughout the film, it starts to become a predicted foregone conclusion that his comedy routine which he's become quite overconfident with, will very likely be terrible in the end, revealing to the audience that all we've witnessed was a complete waste of time and just the ramblings of a deluded nutcase. But guess what? He's actually good! Yes, it turns out that Rupert Pupkin and his less-than-conventional attitudes and actions are going to pay off in the end because the monologue that he delivers on television is funny...and it's funny with that extra added physical style of Robert DeNiro whick is always just a little thicker and a little more intruiging than the average man...and it's also got that great Scorsese flare that perfectly completes the cinematic team of Scorsese and DeNiro. I can only hope that CASINO (1995) was not the last time we'll see of them together.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Rupert Pupkin: "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Let me introduce myself. My name is Rupert Pupkin. I was born in Clifton, New Jersey...which was not at that time a federal offense. Is there anyone here from Clifton? Oh, good, we can all relax now. I'd like to begin by saying...my parents were too poor to afford me a childhood. But the fact is that no one is allowed to be too poor in Clifton. Once you fall below a certain level, they exile you to Passaic. My parents did put the first two down payments on my childhood. Don't get me wrong, but they did also return me to the hospital as defective. But, like everyone else I grew up in large part thanks to my mother. If she were only here today, I'd say, "Hey, ma, what are you doing here? You've been dead for nine years!" But seriously, you should've seen my mother. She was wonderful. Blonde, beautiful, intelligent, alcoholic. We used to drink milk together after school. Mine was homogenized, hers was loaded. Once they picked her up for speeding. They clocked her doing fifty-five. All right, but in our garage? And when they tested her, they found out that her alcohol had two percent blood. Ah, but we used to joke together, mom and me...until the tears would stroll down her face... and she would throw up! Yeah, and who would clean it up? Not dad. He was too busy down at O'Grady's throwing up on his own. Yeah. In fact, until I was sixteen I thought throwing up was a sign of maturity. While the other kids were off in the woods sneaking cigarettes, I was hiding behind the house with my fingers down my throat. The only problem was I never got anywhere. Until one day my father caught me. Just as he was giving me a final kick in the stomach for luck, I managed to heave all over his new shoes! "That's it", I thought. "I've made it. I'm finally a man!" But as it turned out, I was wrong. That was the only attention my father ever gave me. Yeah, he was usually too busy out in the park playing ball with my sister Rose. But today, I must say thanks to those many hours of practice my sister Rose has grown into a fine man. Me, I wasn't especially interested in athletics. The only exercise I ever got was when the other kids picked on me. Yeah, they used to beat me up once a week, usually Tuesday. And after a while the school worked it into the curriculum. And if you knocked me out, you got extra credit. There was this one kid, poor kid, he was afraid of me. I used to tell him, "Hit me, hit me. What's the matter with you? Don't you want to graduate?" Hey, I was the youngest kid in the history of the school to graduate in traction. But, you know, my only real interest right from the beginning, was show business. Even as a young man, I began at the very top collecting autographs. Now, a lot of you are probably wondering, why Jerry isn't with us tonight. Well, I'll tell you. The fact is he's tied up. I'm the one who tied him. Well, I know you think I'm joking, but, believe me, that's the only way I could break into show business...by hijacking Jerry Langford. Right now, Jerry is strapped to a chair somewhere in the middle of the city. Go ahead, laugh. Thank you. I appreciate it. But the fact is, I'm here. Now, tomorrow you'll know I wasn't kidding, and you'll think I was crazy. But, look, I figure it this way. Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime! Thank you. Thank you."
Told you it was funny!