The King of Comedy

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Darryl Strawberry
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The King of Comedy

Postby Darryl Strawberry » 25 Mar 2017, 23:30

I'm watching this for the first time in about 10 years. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that this is Scorsese's masterpiece and De Niro's most chilling performance.
Jerry Lewis is miserably brilliant but De Niro is incredible. Never more subtle, it's a fantastic portrait of celebrity (and insanity).



And even though Good Fellas was a masterclass in the art of the freeze frame it doesn't beat the shot of Sandra Bernhard's hands illuminated in the car window.
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby Fonz » 26 Mar 2017, 00:22

I found the Bernard character hard work. The film went downhill when she got more prominent.
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby PresMuffley » 26 Mar 2017, 00:40

It's top tier, but Taxi Driver is his best work and will always be my favorite.
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby Darryl Strawberry » 26 Mar 2017, 02:13

The two films are so similar. Both ask the question at the end - is this real or in his mind? Did Travis meet Betsy again? Did Rupert make the cover of Time?
Is this fantasy?
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby PresMuffley » 26 Mar 2017, 02:38

I feel the ending of Taxi Driver is clearly meant to hammer home just how delusional Travis was. You can take it as being nebulous if you like, but that has never been my interpretation. It's been a while since I've seen The King of Comedy, and I haven't watched it nearly as many times as Taxi Driver, so I will refrain from speculation.
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby inside-out fox » 26 Mar 2017, 03:11

It's a very good film and it's especially interesting because De Niro's playing against type (I don't think he ever managed such an atypical performance again). Scorsese got great performances out of Lewis (very subtle) and Bernard (not so subtle) too.

It's not the first time I've heard this line about it being Scorsese's masterpiece but I think that's just crazy talk. Maybe people make these exaggerated claims to bring it to people's attention (like saying The Soft Parade is The Doors' best or something). As far as I'm concerned, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas all beat it - and I probably enjoy After Hours just as much.
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby The Write Profile » 26 Mar 2017, 07:01

Dog Pickle 'BEAUT' wrote:It's a very good film and it's especially interesting because De Niro's playing against type (I don't think he ever managed such an atypical performance again). Scorsese got great performances out of Lewis (very subtle) and Bernard (not so subtle) too.

It's not the first time I've heard this line about it being Scorsese's masterpiece but I think that's just crazy talk. Maybe people make these exaggerated claims to bring it to people's attention (like saying The Soft Parade is The Doors' best or something). As far as I'm concerned, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas all beat it - and I probably enjoy After Hours just as much.


I'd agree with everything you wrote there. I think it's a film that's probably more interesting to think about than actually watch, and partly this is because it's pitched at such an uneasy level. There's a squirming intensity to so many of the scenes (I wonder whether it influenced Ricky Gervais's later work- I wouldn't be surprised)--not least the scene where Deniro turns up on Jerry Lee's doorstop and just doesn't seem to realise he's completely unwanted. I think it's aged reasonably well because it predicted what we now know as "celebrity culture", but as a satire, it's a pretty mean-spirited work.

Nice shout on After Hours. I watched it for the first time a couple of months ago and was really taken by it- it had a fittingly (ha!) nocturnal sense of weirdness, where just about everything that could go wrong does. It also made me think that Scorsese could have made more comedies if he wanted to.
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby Darryl Strawberry » 26 Mar 2017, 08:09

After Hours is a really funny film but it's not even close to The King of Comedy. Ever scene is laced with sadness. We laugh when he's trying to record his tape and his mum interrupts him but equally every, "Ma!" hammered home his solitude and his pathetic life.
The performance of De Niro in the stand up routine is as good as any moment in Raging Bull. The racing to punchlines, the intake of breath, the hand gestures are perfect indications of Pupkin's desire coverage and his ineptitude.
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby Darryl Strawberry » 26 Mar 2017, 10:42

Mark Kermode agrees with me. Or at least he did in 2010.

When I interviewed Martin Scorsese for this Sunday's Observer New Review, he described Michael Powell's 1960 shocker Peeping Tom as "one of my all-time favourite movies" – a film that brilliantly dramatises the "pathology of cinema" and the "dangers of gazing". Decried by critics and hounded out of cinemas on its initial release, the film became a lost classic, and was only rediscovered after Scorsese helped get it into the New York film festival and co-financed its rerelease two decades later. Peeping Tom is now considered the pinnacle of Powell's career.

As for Scorsese, it seems to me that the director's own greatest film is still one of his least applauded. Ask any casual fan to name their top Scorsese flicks and the chances are they'll come up with titles, such as Taxi Driver and Mean Streets, that came to define the cutting edge of American cinema in the 70s; or Raging Bull, a searing portrait of the life of Jake La Motta, featuring Robert De Niro at his body-changing best. Or what about Goodfellas, which remains so popular that a possible small-screen prequel is in the offing?

While all these movies are terrific indeed, they pale by comparison with Scorsese and De Niro's finest – and most often overlooked – work: The King of Comedy. The salutary tale of an aspiring comedian who kidnaps his idol, Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis, playing close to type), in order to ensure a TV spot, The King of Comedy has more to say about the parlous state of modern celebrity culture than any other movie I can call to mind. As the borderline psychopath Rupert Pupkin, De Niro channels the most terrifying elements of Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle, his delusional (and supposedly humorous) "at home" monologues every bit as alarming as Bickle's oft-quoted "You talkin' to me?" tirade.

Perfectly pitched between satire and horror, The King of Comedy finds both its director and star working at the peak of their powers – the dramatic punch of the piece being strengthened by understatement, by the fact that neither director nor star are grandstanding. There's a palpable sense of clawing unease about the depiction of Langford's hermetically sealed life ("How did you get this number?"), which Pupkin punctures simply by refusing to take no for an answer; in his mind, he's Jerry's "friend", the heir to his comic throne, and no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary will persuade him otherwise.

The real payoff comes in the film's third act, when we finally get to see Pupkin's act – and discover that his standup schtick is neither good nor bad, but (more disturbingly) maddeningly mediocre. De Niro reportedly honed his skills in small standup clubs, studying performers and testing his own material – the same devotion he brought to boxing in Raging Bull, a profession in which, as Jake La Motta once told me, De Niro genuinely could have been a contender. But somehow comedy – or more precisely, unremarkable comedy – seems even harder to get right than being repeatedly punched in the face, and De Niro and Scorsese never miss a bit. Despite getting a critical and public kicking when first released, The King of Comedy is quite breathtakingly brilliant, and I'd take Pupkin over Bickle any day (and my colleague Jonathan Jones agrees). How about you?
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
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Phil T

Re: The King of Comedy

Postby Phil T » 26 Mar 2017, 10:47

Coincidentally, I recommended this particular film to Pippa just a few days ago. :)

It's an odd artefact, but I love it, though I haven't seen it for a long time. As as already been said, De Niro's acting against type is interesting and for me, rather refreshing. Down side? Yes, Bernhard's performance does drag things down a little in places

I've read elsewhere - written by people who know him - that Jerry Lewis' performance as Jerry Langford is very close to what the man is really like. I don't know how true this is, but certainly De Niro has gone on record as saying that he was a Lewis fan, but working with him made him realise how sour & unpleasant Lewis is.

Anyway, I really should get the DVD for this.

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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby inside-out fox » 26 Mar 2017, 11:10

Phil T wrote:I've read elsewhere - written by people who know him - that Jerry Lewis' performance as Jerry Langford is very close to what the man is really like. I don't know how true this is, but certainly De Niro has gone on record as saying that he was a Lewis fan, but working with him made him realise how sour & unpleasant Lewis is.


This would certainly seem to bear that out:

Jimbo wrote:You must read this along with the essay I posted and then keep wondering why America is so extreme.


Still Baron wrote:The essay that you posted was absolute nonsense and unworthy of further comment.

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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby Darryl Strawberry » 26 Mar 2017, 11:18

I think it was deliberate and Lewis happily entered into the film to display his true colours. In the scene when he walks round NYC only the cabbie and the woman on the phone ("You should only get cancer!") were actors so you see how well liked he was - i think he wanted to show that side of his fame as well as his own dark side ("Not them, me, I'm like this.") which was his reaction to the fame.
I imagine much of it was unscripted.

PS I read that the "get cancer" story really happened to Lewis.
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby Pat O'Banton » 26 Mar 2017, 17:32

I've always thought it slightly overrated. It's nowhere near as good as Taxi Driver or Goodfellas.
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby sloopjohnc » 31 Mar 2017, 00:21

Dog Pickle 'BEAUT' wrote:As far as I'm concerned, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas all beat it - and I probably enjoy After Hours just as much.


You would be correct, sir.
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Re: The King of Comedy

Postby Quaco » 31 Mar 2017, 15:39

The Write Profile wrote:Nice shout on After Hours. ... [I]t had a fittingly (ha!) nocturnal sense of weirdness, where just about everything that could go wrong does.

My most hated 'genre'.

I always loved The King of Comedy. Altman's The Player pushed some of the same buttons.
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