Tuesday, August 22, 2017
The King of Comedy
(In Memory of the Kings of Comedy in Dick Gregory (1932-2017) and Jerry Lewis (1926-2017))
Directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul D. Zimmerman, The King of Comedy is the story of a stand-up comedian trying to get his big break as he decides to kidnap a late-night talk show host to do so. The film is a study of obsession for celebrity as well as the need to be famous as it explore many of the ideas of fame and what some will do to become famous. Starring Robert de Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard, Diahnne Abbott, Shelley Hack, and Tony Randall as himself. The King of Comedy is a witty and whimsical film from Martin Scorsese.
The film follows a wannabe standup comedian who is trying to get the attention of a renowned late-night TV talk-show host to appear in his show and become his friend only for things to not go his way where he and another fan kidnap the man. It’s a film that explores a man’s obsession to be famous and what he’s willing to do to achieve that as he loses touch with reality and becomes very invasive towards the life of this talk-show host. Paul D. Zimmerman’s screenplay follows the character of Rupert Pupkin (Robert de Niro) as a guy that really thinks he has what it takes to be a successful stand-up comedian. Pupkin also wants to impress his girlfriend Rita (Diahnne Abbott) who isn’t convinced he would succeed as he would meet the talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) by saving him from a deranged fan during the film’s opening sequence as Rupert thinks he has a chance to get his foot in the door.
Pupkin is a very offbeat character as someone who is definitely living a fantasy life as he imagines a conversation he would have Langford at a restaurant while Pupkin is in his room imagining this conversation. It adds to how deranged he is as a person where he would continuously try to meet Langford again by sending him an audition tape to be on the show. Yet, Langford is aware of how far Pupkin is willing to be on the show as there’s a moment in the second act where Pupkin goes too far leading to the third act where Pupkin turns to the deranged fan Masha (Sandra Bernhard) for help in the kidnapping plot. It’s the moment where it showcases Pupkin’s own craziness but he still wants to be nice and friendly to Langford though Langford knows what he has to do as the people working on his show scramble on what to do as it lead to what could be Pupkin’s big moment.
Martin Scorsese’s direction is quite straightforward in terms of the compositions and not delving too much into style. Shot entirely on location in New York City, Scorsese would use some wide shots for a few scenes including a look into Pupkin’s room in his family home as well as a few scenes in some of the exteriors of the city. Yet, Scorsese would maintain something that is a bit more intimate and to the point where he would use some hand-held cameras for some scenes including a long tracking shot for a chase scene of sorts where Pupkin tries to find Langford in the latter’s office. Still, much of Scorsese’s direction has this element of fantasy vs. reality as the scenes where Pupkin is in his room doing his routine or his imaginary conversation with Langford just add something that is dream-like and filled with dazzling visuals in comparison to the element of reality that Pupkin is facing.
Especially in the third act where Scorsese would infuse bits of style in the scenes where Langford has been kidnapped as Masha would try to seduce him as it’s darkly comic in what she’s trying to do. The presentation of Langford’s TV show is definitely presented in that TV format as it would include everything Pupkin imagine it would be as it would climax into the moment he would get his chance to make America laugh. The film’s ending is ambiguous as it relates to that air of fantasy vs. reality where it never really reveals what is really happening as it all plays into the idea of fame. Overall, Scorsese creates a compelling and satirical film about a comedian trying to become famous by kidnapping a late-night TV talk show host.
Cinematographer Fred Schuler does excellent work with the film’s cinematography from the usage of lights for many of the exterior scenes at night as well as some of the scenes in the TV studio and at the home of Masha with its candle lights for her dinner with Langford. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker does brilliant work with the editing in playing up to some of the film’s humor with its stylistic jump-cuts and some montage cutting that add to the blur of fantasy vs. reality. Production designer Boris Leven, with set decorators George De Titta Sr. and Daniel Robert plus art directors Lawrence Miller and Edward Pisoni, does amazing work with the look of Pupkin’s room at the home he lives with his mother as well as the look of the TV studio set and the interiors of Masha’s home and Langford’s home.
Costume designer Richard Bruno does fantastic work with the costumes from the stylish suits that Pupkin wears as well as some of the clothes that Masha wears. Sound editor Frank E. Warner does superb work with the sound from the way many of the exteriors of New York City is presented to the sparse moments at the homes of some of the characters. Music producer Robbie Robertson creates a terrific soundtrack that feature some cheesy TV music scores from Bob James while the soundtrack features a mixture of music from the Pretenders, Talking Heads, B.B. King, Van Morrison, David Sanborn, Rickie Lee Jones, Ric Ocasek, Ray Charles, and a cut by Robertson himself.
The casting by Cis Corman is wonderful as it feature several cameo appearances from singer Ellen Foley and three members of the British punk band in the Clash as street punks at Times Square, Cathy Scorsese as a young woman wanting Langford’s autograph, Charles Scorsese and Marik Mardin as two men at a bar, Catherine Scorsese as the voice of Pupkin’s mother, Lou Brown as the talk show band leader, Ed Herlihy as the announcer, Martin Scorsese as the TV director, Kim Chan as Langford’s butler, Margo Winkler as the receptionist at Langford’s office building, Frederick de Cordova as Langford’s producer, Edgar Scherick as the network president, Victor Borge and Dr. Joyce Brothers as themselves who are guests at Langford’s show, Shelly Hack as Langford’s secretary, and Tony Randall as himself who would fill in for Langford during a broadcast.
Diahnne Abbott is superb as Pupkin’s bartender girlfriend Rita who doesn’t believe Pupkin would succeed as she becomes more suspicious about what he does as she becomes more bewildered by his behavior. Sandra Bernhard is fantastic as Masha as an obsessed fan of Langford who would secretly work with Pupkin as she hopes to have Langford all to herself. Jerry Lewis is phenomenal as Jerry Langford as a late-night TV talk show host who is trying to run a show as he becomes uneasy by Pupkin’s presence and determination as it’s a very low-key and restrained performance from Lewis that has him be funny when he’s on TV but be more serious when he’s not on TV. Finally, there’s Robert de Niro in an incredible performance as Rupert Pupkin as this wannabe stand-up comedian who is trying to get his break as he is quite deranged and obsessive as it is one of de Niro’s finer performances in terms of his energy, sense of humor, and willingness to balance kindness and madness all into one.
The King of Comedy is a tremendous film from Martin Scorsese that features great performances from Robert de Niro and Jerry Lewis. Along with its fantastic supporting cast, a cool soundtrack, amazing technical work, and a riveting study of obsession and the desire to be famous. It’s a film that explore the fallacy of these desires as well as how a man can lose touch with reality in order to pursue his dreams. In the end, The King of Comedy is a magnificent film from Martin Scorsese.
Martin Scorsese Films: (Who’s That Knocking on My Door?) – (Street Scenes) – Boxcar Bertha – (Mean Streets) – Italianamerican – Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Taxi Driver - New York, New York – American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince - (The Last Waltz) – Raging Bull - After Hours – The Color of Money - The Last Temptation of Christ - New York Stories-Life Lessons - Goodfellas – Cape Fear - The Age of Innocence - (A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies) – (Casino) – (Kundun) – (My Voyage to Italy) – Bringing Out the Dead - (The Blues-Feel Like Going Home) – Gangs of New York - (The Aviator) – No Direction Home – The Departed - Shine a Light – Shutter Island - (A Letter to Elia) – (Public Speaking) - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Hugo - The Wolf of Wall Street - (The Fifty Year Argument) – Silence (2016 film) - (The Irishman)
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