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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 4:44 pm 
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I finally saw Scorsese's picture, "King of Comedy." I know the record shows that it was a box-office bomb - 20th Century Fox's delayed release probably hurt it somewhat - and it failed to garner one Oscar nomination, so not surprisingly a lot of hype's built up, probably to keep the picture from falling into neglect.

It was supposedly critically acclaimed when it came out, and Jonathan Rosenbaum pegged it as one of the 15 best films of the 80's, saying he preferred it to anything Scorsese directed with the possible exception of "Kundun."

After seeing it, I feel like it's been overhyped a bit. I liked "After Hours" a lot, but this picture, as social commentary and comedy, I dunno, it's pretty good, definitely undeserving of its poor public reception, but it's not as good as some people make it out to be.

[SPOILERS BELOW]

There's some gorgeous things about it, I love how the opening sequence was shot, and the acting is uniformly strong. It's pretty creepy, especially in the context of Reagan getting shot - in 1981, sometime during production of this picture, I think - and the connection that had with "Taxi Driver." It has some sharp insights on celebrity worship - as it's made clear in the documentary, 'Pupkin' isn't really an admirer of 'Jerry Langford' but someone who envies and wants what Langford has, and the childish motivations behind such delusions is touched on in the fantasy 'wedding sequence' where the preacher tells Pupkin that everyone was wrong about him.

But, some of the picture doesn't go further with some of those strands, and there's something kind of stiff about most of the picture. The ideas are all there and laid out pretty clear, but the way the picture moves along with the story feels sluggish, especially the pay-off which feels by the numbers - you see Pupkin's lame monologue with the big audience laughs, he gets arrested, the quick media blitz that creates a celebrity out of Pupkin (recalls of "Taxi Driver" and "Network," I guess, but also a lot of lesser TV shows and movies that do something similar) and he gets his own show, then Van Morrison's "Wonderful Remark," which is an excellent song but feels out of place.

Yeah, there's a telling line buried in there, "better to be King for a night...etc.," but it comes at the tailend of that lame monologue, which I guess HAD to be shown in its entirety.

Anyone else see this or waiting to see this?


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 4:56 pm 
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I always figured the last little bit was in his head (what makes me feel this way is the announcer keeps repeating himself during the last few moments, as if Rupert enjoys hearing this) His monologue is also a key to the character: You learn an awful lot about the character through it. It was painful, but I guess that was supposed to be the point. The character is a sad sad individual, fairly pathetic, and the monologue seems to suggest how he got there.

One thing, though. I always took the monologue as being true. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I remember him saying something about his mother being dead or died when he was young. But throughout the film you hear her yell down to him in the basement from upstairs, but you never see her. Is the monologue complete horseshit, partial, or is he just nuts?

I always liked this movie. I found it gripping but incredibly painful to watch (the character is too real and too pathetic) It's one of my favourites from Scorsese. Too bad the DVD doesn't include the SNL skit where Jerry Lewis is overlooking the dubbing of the film for French audiences :)


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 5:18 pm 
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hearthesilence wrote:
But, some of the picture doesn't go further with some of those strands, and there's something kind of stiff about most of the picture. The ideas are all there and laid out pretty clear, but the way the picture moves along with the story feels sluggish, especially the pay-off which feels by the numbers - you see Pupkin's lame monologue with the big audience laughs, he gets arrested, the quick media blitz that creates a celebrity out of Pupkin (recalls of "Taxi Driver" and "Network," I guess, but also a lot of lesser TV shows and movies that do something similar) and he gets his own show,


If you look at the film in relation to the recent glut of reality shows, King of Comedy seems even more relevant. It's like Rupert is doing a guerilla warfare version of American Idol or something. He is basically using force to carve out his own 15 minutes of fame and the film blurs the line between reality and fantasy. Not to mention Rupert anticipates all these pathetic people you see on reality shows nowadays, trying desperately to become rich and famous and more often than not falling short and becoming objects of ridicule for our amusement, just another source of temporary entertainment wedged between re-runs of Seinfeld and Will and Grace.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 8:35 pm 
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I would echo the sentiment that the final sequence seems to be playing out in Pupkin's head. The way the set of his show is lit makes the stage look like a prison to me, and when I saw this I was anticipating a match cut to Pupkin reciting his monologue in jail. I was pleased it didn't come because I enjoy reading into it myself. And I like the idea that perhaps Pupkin's mother doesn't exist either and that everything he says in his monologue (which I can't remember distinctly as I've only seen this once) is true. It might not be the correct reading, but I enjoy the possibility.

Of course, if the final moments of the film are taking place inside his head, it sort of undermines how this film was actually ahead of its time. The ending might feel predictable now because we're so used to seeing this sort of thing on television, but I don't know that it would have been so in 1981. Like FFF said, I think it might have been more prophetic at the time.

I don't know much about the general critical response, but it doesn't seem overzealous to me. A handful of critics saying they loved the movie, or even that it's their favorite Scorsese, is not out of line with some films playing to a person's tastes better than others. The fact that it rarely gets mentioned in conversations about this director's best work would indicate to me that it doesn't receive an undue amount of praise. But of course, I liked it quite a bit. This wouldn't be a top-five Scorsese pick for me, but I do think it goes unfairly overlooked.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 6:00 am 

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I do agree it's a bit critically over-rated. It's a tricky one, in that it is very interesting, and still relevent, and beautifully made....

But... it lacks something, an essential spark of vitality that makes a film live and breathe. Scorsese and DeNiro themselves weren't terribly keen on the end result, and Pauline Kael nailed it in her review - if you throttle back some of her invective, she makes the very good point that it's lifeless and soulless and arid. Even though the shooting style may be designed to mimc the flat set-ups of TV, it stifles the movie.

I think it's one of those ones that's built up a critical following just because it's more obscure and less over-exposed than other Scorsese movies.*






*though I'm shocked at how many people seem to think that GOODFELLAS was Scorsese year zero: as someone who feverishly tracked down all his early work after seeing TAXI DRIVER in 1987, it's a bit alarming to see the pre-GOODFELLAS films apparently living in it's shadow, so I'd argue for the continued critical promotion of KING OF COMEDY along with the other 70's works, just so they don't get washed away by THE AVIATOR, GANGS OF NEW YORK, KUNDUN et al... I guess that's another topic, though.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 9:16 am 
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I really liked King Of Comedy very much, although I agree it lacks of something which prevents it of being a masterpiece.

I do not consider it, however, over-hyped nor overrated, quite contrary underrated, people tend to overlook it. and I think it shall not be missed.

Scorsese once pointed out on an interview that for him this was De Niro's Best performance. For me it might not be his best, but one of his best definitely.


Axel.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 10:01 am 
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I have to agree that the movie does feel a little lifeless, though funny enough I never really noticed it until Jerry is abducted and after that it only picks up slightly again. Up until that point I felt the movie had a good amount of energy, but it was probably because of De Niro (and I think it's definitely one of his best performances.)

But I definitely still enjoy the movie. I think I'm just intrigued by Rupert Pupkin and his little fantasy world he creates. The scene where he takes his girl (forget her character's name) to meet Jerry is easily one of the most painful yet honest scenes I've seen in the movies. I don't think stalking (celebrity or otherwise) has been better presented in any other movie on the subject. This one captures their frame of mind, motivations and so on so well, and it's all thanks to the script, directing, and performance by De Niro. It's definitely flawed, and I wouldn't consider it a masterpiece (to be honest I hate using that word on anything anyways), but I still think it's damn good.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 10:05 am 
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cdnchris wrote:
I have to agree that the movie does feel a little lifeless, though funny enough I never really noticed it until Jerry is abducted and after that it only picks up slightly again. Up until that point I felt the movie had a good amount of energy, but it was probably because of De Niro (and I think it's definitely one of his best performances.)

But I definitely still enjoy the movie. I think I'm just intrigued by Rupert Pupkin and his little fantasy world he creates. The scene where he takes his girl (forget her character's name) to meet Jerry is easily one of the most painful yet honest scenes I've seen in the movies. I don't think stalking (celebrity or otherwise) has been better presented in any other movie on the subject. This one captures their frame of mind, motivations and so on so well, and it's all thanks to the script, directing, and performance by De Niro. It's definitely flawed, and I wouldn't consider it a masterpiece (to be honest I hate using that word on anything anyways), but I still think it's damn good.



Damn, yes, that scene at the country house is so moving, man, you feel sorry for Rupert...


Axel.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 11:22 am 
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The girl's name is Rita. THE KING OF COMEDY is one of my favorite Scorsese films. The one part I didn't care for involves Rita when Rupert takes her to Jerry's house. I liked her character a lot and was dismayed at the cynical touch of having her steal that glass table decoration from Jerry's house when she gets her purse after she realizes they aren't wanted there.

Aside from that, I think the film is brilliant. I keep changing my mind as to the ending and if it really happened. I thought I read somewhere that Scorsese thought the ending was kind of hopeful, but he admits it's open-ended and can be interpreted different ways.

The scene in the restaurant where Jerry asks Rupert to help him out is one of the most amazing scenes in it. On my first viewing, I didn't realize it to be a fantasy until the cut of Rupert repeating the dialogue while in his basement set. DeNiro did a terrific job bysaying the dialogue 2 different ways -- restrained and professional in the restaurant fantasy and buffonish in real life.

this is also the only movie I've seen where I liked the performances of Sandra Bernhard and Shelly Hack.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 3:06 pm 
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Maybe Elaine May's The Heartbreak Kid is the only other film I find as excruciatingly fun to watch as The King of Comedy, which is certainly my favorite Scorsese. I don't consider it lifeless or soulless at all (but I rarely agree with Kael). I'm emotionally engaged with this film in a way that I'm not with 99% of other movies. Squirming in pain as Rupert tries to converse with the receptionist (who never gets his name right) about cork ceilings, showing up at Jerry's house uninvited, and that heartbreaking monologue. One of the most genius things in the film is how Scorsese keeps tempting us with the monologue, but cuts to another scene or drowns out DeNiro's dialogue--you know the monologue is going to be excruciating, and when you get to it at the end of the film, it's just as horrible and miserable as you thought it was going to be. Millie Lammoreaux in Altman's 3 Women I would rank up there with Pupkin in terms of creating embarrassment for the character on the part of the viewer.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 3:41 pm 
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I couldn't find that Kael review, but apparently she was a huge, early booster of Scorsese's, then tore apart "Raging Bull" AND "King of Comedy" in her reviews, with the latter getting a very harsh beating. Also, Scorsese apparently was on his way out on New Year's Eve when he caught a bit of "Entertainment Tonight" (shudder) and they did some bit about "King of Comedy" being the year's biggest flop or something like that. It hurt Scorsese, not because he respected the show as an arbiter of good taste, but because it was another concrete signal that the 'era of personal movies' bankrolled by major studios was truly over.

I'll have to see "King of Comedy" again, probably some other time. In the meantime, here's an interview Gene Siskel did in 1985. It's about "After Hours" and the first attempt at "Last Temptation," but at the end, they talk about "King of Comedy." I was going to edit it, but I figured the whole article was worth reading.

BIG BUCKS LIE IN ONE DIRECTION, BUT IT`S NOT SCORSESE`S WAY

Chicago Tribune
September 15, 1985
Author: Gene Siskel, Movie critic.
Estimated printed pages: 9

In New York the other day a young art dealer asked a film critic to name his favorite young director. ``Martin Scorsese is the best young filmmaker in America,`` the critic answered. Then he realized that Scorsese is 42 years old.

That story cuts two ways. It`s a tribute to both the vitality of Scorsese`s films (``Mean Streets,`` ``Taxi Driver,`` ``Raging Bull``) as well as a sad commentary on the paucity of truly talented young filmmakers working in our nation today.

Where is the 30-year-old director, as Scorsese was, making such an unforgettable, street-smart, rites-of-passage film as ``Mean Streets``?
Indeed, it can be said that Scorsese, if not truly young, is the last great young American director to emerge from the film school generation. An admirer of the films of Federico Fellini, Scorsese now appears to be the last young director who aspires to make ``the great American movie.``

The film-making generation that has followed him considers Steven Spielberg their god, and for years have been trying to make ``the great American hit.`` It`s a question of whether one views film-making as art or commerce, and Scorsese`s preference is clear.

These thoughts about Scorsese`s age and art were triggered by a recent preview of his latest feature, a chilling but very funny Manhattan nightmare called ``After Hours,`` and by a conversation in the director`s three-story loft in Lower Manhattan.

Small, bearded, intense and recently married for the fourth time, Scorsese says he has put the loft up for sale.

``We`re both small people,`` he says about himself and Barbara De Fina, his former film production assistant wife, ``and this place is just too big. We can`t have an intimate conversation.``

Two huge vintage French movie posters--Jean Cocteau`s ``The Beauty and the Beast`` and Jean Renoir`s ``Rules of the Game``--dominate the main, sparsely furnished living space, which contains as much state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment and air conditioning (for the director`s asthma) as furniture.

His home looks out appropriately onto some rather mean Manhattan streets, including the scene of a recent mass murder, as well as, farther in the distance, the World Trade Center.

The location of his home is not far from the streets where he shot ``After Hours,`` the story of one long night in the life of Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a bored yuppie who ventures into Manhattan`s SoHo district after meeting an attractive young woman (Rosanna Arquette) who holds out the promise of easy sex.

Alas, nothing will come easy for Paul Hackett on this star-crossed night. In what almost plays as an extended version of a ``Twilight Zone`` episode, Paul Hackett encounters a suicide, kinky sex, a frantic taxi driver, thieves in the night, strange women who appear to have come from a time warp and even a change in New York`s subway fares.

Says Paul at about 4:30 in the morning, ``I just want to get home. I`ve had a terrible, terrible night. Terrible, do you understand?``

Part of the humor of ``After Hours`` comes out of Paul Hackett getting his fingers burned when he tries to reach for sex. The film is at its best when we can feel the tension as he tries to decide when to make his move with the variety of women he meets.

``Yes, it all goes back to fears about how far to put your arm around a girl,`` Scorsese said with a laugh.

But as weird as the scene in SoHo may be, Scorsese, working from a first script by 26-year-old writer Joseph Minion, makes it very clear that life there is more vibrant, more genuine than the boring Uptown office where Paul works. Could ``After Hours`` be Scorsese`s attack on yuppiedom?

``I don`t know if that`s the message of the film,`` Scorsese said, ``but it`s absolutely true about the way I feel about those two worlds. SoHo has everything. I just think this yuppie thing is awful. I really did want to take one and put him through a night like that. I mean, what is this yuppie thing after all? We`ve only been hearing about for a year, but it`s been a longer time coming. It`s all this emphasis on material values.

``Now, granted, I try to get the best financial deal for myself that I can, but I do make concessions. I had to take a big cut to make this picture.`` And Scorsese, says a longtime associate, is well known for giving away portions of his profit participation as a director in exchange for the ability to have a longer shooting time on his films.

Although ``After Hours`` has its humorous side, one gets the feeling Paul Hackett`s scary night is no worse than many nights in Scorsese`s own life.

In addition to his series of marital failures and reported cocaine abuse (``That was just a side issue for a year or so,`` he says, ``the problems were deeper than that.``), Scorsese has had great difficulty attracting audiences in a size equal to his critical acclaim and the respect his colleagues have for him. Spielberg has said that Scorsese is the ``greatest artist`` of his film-making generation.

``What`s happened (to artistic freedom) in the last eight years has been phenomenal,`` Scorsese said. ``It`s so hard to get any kind of picture made that`s slightly different. The only way you can do it, if at all now, is for a (low) price.

`` `After Hours` cost only $4 million (about one-third of the cost of today`s average studio picture). I took less than half of my usual salary as director. And we shot fast--40 nights.

``Right now I`m pitching directing a `50s love story with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Carlo Ponti would produce. But we have to make it at a very cheap price to get anyone to listen.

``I don`t know in the next 5 to 10 years,`` Scorsese said, ``where I`d be able to make a picture like `Raging Bull` again, and make it as slowly and as carefully as we did. We shot for 20 weeks--10 weeks of dramatic scenes and 10 weeks of fight scenes--followed by some time off (for Robert De Niro to gain 50 pounds to play the dissolute Jake LaMotta) and then 10 more days of shooting.

``My dream,`` Scorsese continued, ``always was to make experimental pictures within the mainstream. My historical model was someone like Fritz Lang, who came to this country having already established a worldwide reputation with films like `Metropolis` but still was able to make wonderful so-called film noir in this country. Similarly Jean Renoir made such great films as `The River,` `The Southerner` and `Diary of a Chamber-maid.`

``But they both had their problems. All Renoir ever wanted was a three-picture-a-year deal at MGM, and he never got it. I thought about that a lot when I couldn`t get `Temptation` made or when `King of Comedy` was really distributed (all around this country).

``Also I`ve talked to Steve Spielberg. We`ve always talked about doing things together. He told me he`d love for me to make a picture that makes a lot of money, because, he said, `You`ve done everything else, you`re such a great director and I`d like to see you happy.```

Scorsese and Spielberg now have collaborated, but only on a 30-minute TV show. Scorsese is directing an episode of Spielberg`s ``Amazing Stories`` series for NBC-TV this fall. `We`re not supposed to talk about the scripts,`` Scorsese said, `but I`ll tell you this much. My episode, which is based on a story Steve came up with, is about a horror film writer who undergoes a transformation. It has allowed me to make a very precise vignette about paranoia.``

Paranoia is a big part of Scorsese`s life and films. It runs all throughout ``After Hours.`` And it was part of his daily work life with the box-office failure of ``The King of Comedy.``

In fact, ``After Hours`` represents a compromise of sorts for Scorsese. It was not the film that he had intended to make after his bitter ``King of Comedy,`` a darkly comic attack on celebrity-chasing and show business.

In November, 1983, he was all set to begin filming in Israel a spectacular, $14 million version of the Nikos Kazantzakis novel ``The Last Temptation of Christ`` when Paramount Pictures chief Barry Diller pulled the plug four weeks before shooting was to begin.

``Ultimately what happened is that a number of elements came together to sink the ship,`` Scorsese said. ``I was in L.A., and I had a morning and evening reservation every day to take the flight to Israel. And every day we were delayed I`d make another set of reservations. Meanwhile I was busy drawing my storyboards (scene sketches).

``But everything else was done. The picture was totally cast, the sets were built and the costumes were made. They were later used for `King David,` `` he said with a rueful laugh, referring to the disastrous Biblical epic starring Richard Gere.

``What happened is that Barry Diller was getting a lot of pressure from Martin Davis, the chairman of Gulf + Western Industries (which owns Paramount). Letters from the Moral Majority were piling up on Davis` desk in New York, claiming that we were going to make a film in which Jesus was portrayed as a homosexual. That wasn`t the case at all, either in the film or in the novel. It was a pure fabrication.

``At the same time, the budget had been escalating. It was originally $11 million. Then it was $14 million. And I wanted to ask for more. My producer, Irwin Winkler, said there was no way I could shoot the film in 90 days. He told me to ask for 10 more days. And then after I did that, he tells me he`s leaving the project for `family reasons` because he doesn`t want to spend that much time away from home.

``So Paramount gave us another producer, but the budget was still a problem (this was during the time of the scandalous ``Heaven`s Gate`` overbudget affair), and what it came down to is that they are much more comfortable having control over pictures in their own back yard.

``They were afraid of a runaway production,`` he said. ``And it`s true, we had walked into Israel with Paramount banners flying and everything that should have cost five cents was now $1.50. We probably should have made it in the south of Italy, where `King David` was made.

``But I can`t overestimate the effect of the fundamentalist protest, because when we began scrambling to find other financing, the same sort of letters from the Moral Majority began showing up on the desks of whomever we talked to. I think we dealt with 26 people between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a number of them said, `We like the (Paul Schrader) script, but we can`t touch this picture.` It was almost like we were being blacklisted.

``Then in March, the French government gave us some (seed) money, but they took it back after the Archbishop of Paris complained after the same letters began showing up.``

And what did Scorsese really want to say about Jesus in his film?

``It really comes from the Kazantzakis novel, which is an attempt to reach an identification with Jesus. Let`s take me for an example. I`m a Roman Catholic and I`ve been married four times. Now that means I`m excommunicated. ``And by the book, excommunication means that you have no right to talk to God. You need the church to intercede for you. Now what I`m saying is, if people (like me) say to themselves, `I`m no good, I`m such a bad sinner, I keep on doing the same thing, whether it`s drinking or drugs or gambling or murder` . . . and if you can see Jesus up there on the screen dealing with the same kind of conflicts, then maybe you can think that there`s hope for you.

Scorsese in his films always has been concerned with the possibility of redemption for sinners, particularly in `Mean Streets` and `Raging Bull.`

``Yes, I think `Raging Bull` was the most obvious example, and with `Mean Streets,` the central notion was how do you live a Christian life in that kind of (crime-riddled) environment?`

The only concrete piece of information to leak about Paul Schrader`s script for `The Last Temptation of Christ` was that at one point Jesus (to be played by former Chicago actor Aidan Quinn) was going to reach into his chest and pull out his heart and give it to someone.

``That was Paul`s idea of the Sacred Heart and following one`s heart,`` Scorsese said. ``All of the miracles were going to be done in a minimal way, because you were going to be seeing them from the other guy`s point of view.

It was (going to be portrayed) sort of like mass hypnosis--it could be or it couldn`t be real.

``One day we`ll get it made,`` Scorsese said with a sigh. ``But right now the climate of this country and the climate around the world is much too conservative.``

That in part explains why Scorsese doesn`t go out to the movies much these days. Rceently, he says, he has ventured out of his home only to see the latest films by Nicolas Roeg (``Eureka,`` ``Insignificance``) and his colleague Paul Schrader (``Mishima``).

``Roeg`s work is always impressive, even if I don`t always like everything about it. And with him I think it`s important to see it always on a big screen.

``I think `Mishima` is really a masterpiece and Paul`s best work. It`s always scary seeing a film by a friend. You sit there with mixed feelings. And `Mishima` was so good, I sat there thinking, `This is great, this is what I should be doing.` I know this was a dream project for Paul for many years, and I really admire the storytelling devices he used. I wound up leaving the film thinking I knew nothing about (the controversial Japanese novelist) Mishima and yet somehow I knew everything about Mishima.``

It was late in the afternoon now, and Scorsese had an appointment Uptown with a dentist. As we drove through the streets of New York, the streets of all of his great films, we talked about films unrecognized in their time that might have a long life.

The name of his own `King of Comedy` came up. `You should read what (director) John Huston said about it in his recent Playboy interview. He said he hated it at first and then saw it three more times and now thinks it`s quite terrific.``

``King of Comedy`` told of a desperate fan`s wish to appear on a talk show. Eventually he gets his wish, but only after kidnaping the host, with a guest shot being the ransom. A lot of Scorsese fans had a problem with the ending of the film, in which the fan becomes a media hero much like Robert De Niro`s character in `Taxi Driver.`

``At first I thought about ending the film with Jerry Lewis (who played the talk show host) having him back on his show. But I asked Jerry about that, and he said there would be no way he would ever put on his show a guy who had just kidnaped him. So I went with the ending you saw. Only later did I realize how similar it was to `Taxi Driver.`

``But still, once you get over the original insult of the film, I think it can get to you. At first, though, even I didn`t like it. I`d only watch parts of it on TV. It`s so grim. For me it`s about how my fantasies and DeNiro`s fantasies have come about. We were like the guy in that movie. We wanted to get into show business. We were fascinated by celebrities. Now we`re a part of it. It`s very strange.

``But I didn`t like making the picture. I didn`t like cutting it. And I don`t like to see it. I hate it. A lot of that had to do with my not being in a good frame of mind when I made it. But I still think it`s a good movie.``

And now Scorsese had a smile on his face. And he did look like a young filmmaker after all.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 5:41 pm 
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I love King of Comedy. A tour de force by De Niro, without a doubt. His persistance in the reception area is quite incredible. The woman who played Langford's assistant is so cool againt the passion of Pupkin. There are many great scenes in the film, but the scene with Bernhard and Lewis does feel a bit protracted. It does make me cringe!

On a similar note, I can't wait to see A Face in the Crowd again, next month. The two films must surely make a great double-bill.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 10:53 pm 
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This is a great film. As far as the ending is concerned, I think they're intentionally trying to be confusing, which is appropriate for the story. My one and only gripe is that I desperately wish Rupert Pupkin's comedy routine at the end were actually funny. That would be the big irony, and his fame after getting out of jail would then be somewhat deserved. But, then again, maybe the end is all a fantasy, in which case it makes more sense.

I think Robert DeNiro, Jerry Lewis, and Sandra Bernhardt are all great. I also think it's Jerry Lewis's best performance on film.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 10:23 am 
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I don't think the ending monologue is supposed to be funny (although I did crack up the first time I heard the punchline about his mom being dead). I don't think Scorsese wants us to think that Pupkin cares about the craft of good comedy writing. He wouldn't take criticism from the assistant on the routine, nor would he try it out at comedy clubs. Pupkin's only reason for being a comedian is for the hope of fame and buddying up with his mentor Jerry Langford. To make the monologue funny would have destroyed the point of the movie.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 11:14 am 
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I just watched this again and was reminded of things I had forgotten. While I know Rupert would LOVE to be buddy-buddy with Jerry and become famous, it's all a means to an end, which is to show everyone back home he's not the loser they always thought him to be. He's also hoping to get Rita. His monologue (to a point) and fantasy wedding sequence really enhance these points, with him finally getting Rita during the "wedding" and then the fantasy priest apologizing on behalf of everyone on how they always thought he was a loser. And then after he delivers his monologue the first things he does is run to the bar to make sure Rita sees it so she knows (in his mind anyways) that he's made it big. I guess that's what being a celebrity is: You make it big, but everyone gets to see that you've made it big. In the end he just wants to prove all those people he knew/knows that they were wrong about him.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 11:46 am 
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Rupert is also a lot like Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER. They're both 2 loners who want to do something to make themselves feel important and lauded. They both also go about it the wrong way.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 12:08 pm 

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And both Taxi Driver & Comedy end with a sequence that (may or may not) only be taking place in the De Niro character's mind...


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 1:12 pm 
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And both Rupert and Travis end up freaking out and pissing off a cold blonde woman at her workplace. They both end up getting kicked out of that workplace too.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 8:52 pm 
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Deep down, we're all little Rupert Pumpkins struggling with an insolent existence.

Still an amazing film. The natural, naked horror of Bernhard's performance that killed her screen career just as it was starting continues to astound. As does Lewis, whose ad-libs and bits of un-scripted business (his butler struggling with the door, his trademark walk-into-run) contrast well with the severity of the role. DeNiro, as ever during those years, just ripped it up, playing his friend and director in disguise. No wonder Scorsese hated to watch.


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 Post subject: The King of Comedy
PostPosted: Sun Mar 23, 2008 7:42 am 
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“The King of Comedy”

“Better to be King for a Night than a Schmuck for a Lifetime.”

Martin Scorsese’s least discussed and certainly most underrated film from 1983. Teaming up with Robert De Niro for the fifth time in a different type of role, perhaps the closest similarity is Brian De Palma’s Hi, Mom! What we see in The King of Comedy is De Niro playing the simplistic, driven, and uncool Rupert Pupkin. Jerry Lewis plays a quiet, tired Johnny Carson-like cardboard cut-out of himself—Jerry Langford.

From the moment we see Rupert, he’s shoving himself through a large crowd of autograph seeking fans outside a TV station, separating himself from the group to show that he’s after something different. But all this breaks down the moment Jerry Langford exits the station, the crowd turns crazed and climbs over each other to get close to Jerry. Rupert sees the possibility of a break and goes for it. Rupert pushes back the mob and tries to help Jerry get inside his waiting limousine. But waiting inside for him is the obsessed stalker Masha, (Sandra Bernhard), who’s hidden in Jerry’s car; Rupert slams the door on her face.

We’re stopped with a flash bulb freeze frame. From inside the world of Jerry’s car, two hands press hard against the window looking out toward the crazed fans in a mob outside trying to fight their way in. Between the hands peering intensely inside is the illuminated face of our most confident and committed protagonist. Immediately we’re faced with opposite sides of a looking glass.

Masha is pulled out and Jerry is pushed in. Rupert takes advantage of his situation and jumps into the car with Jerry, again separating himself from the manic autograph hounds just outside the door. As he enters the car, he leaves behind the identity of just being a fan. He and Jerry now have a connection. He now has been given the green light—the blessing of being in the right place at the right time—to get what he wants. By coming in contact with dream nothing stands in his way of reaching out and taking it.

Their conversation in the car lets us know Rupert is a comedian who deeply admires Jerry. Jerry is tired and politely hears him out. The rest of the film soars high into Rupert’s imagination based on this simple exchange.

Rupert is deceivingly simplistic. His will to succeed is never sidetracked or affected by outside realities. Rupert only wants one thing: to be a TV talk show host. Nothing will stand in his way. Without a moments hesitation we find him in ruthlessly embarrassing situations, worthless confrontations, simply for his insistence on turning aspiration into execution. As we follow him and Masha to the bitter end, we see there’s no stopping Rupert in getting what he wants. He’ll eventually succeed but to a questionable cost. All he wants is Jerry to recognize his talent and put him on the show. He wants to be friends with Jerry. He wants to be better than Jerry. He wants to bury Jerry.

He never stops to consider fantasy from reality.
The two realities that exist in this film are Rupert’s committed fantasy and our outside, unattached, onlooker perception. We see Rupert resting his finger on the receiver of the pay phone waiting for the ultimate call from Jerry. The basement scene with him “on set” sitting between cardboard cut-outs of Liza Minnelli and Jerry facing Rupert as he mocks up conversation between them.
All the conversations Rupert and Jerry have: the office calls where Jerry begs Rupert to host the show, the restaurant meetings where Jerry opens up to Rupert—even to the point where Rupert is being asked for autographs instead of Jerry, or the other patrons in the restaurant are peering across the room at them and can’t believe the celebrity sighting they’ve encountered.)
Being on TV with Jerry and the high school principle who marries him to his bartender crush then admits, on the air, that Rupert was right all these years and those who doubted him were wrong.

The two most effective examples of these parallel realities are the pull back shot of the laughing audience wallpaper to which he’s performing to. Digging further into the dream is the looping laugh track that plays behind his center staged creation.
Then finally, the pictures last two minutes, having been released from jail on good behavior the world is waiting on Rupert to return to their lives. He’s on every magazine and TV channel, similar to Scrosese’s earlier film Taxi Driver where the protagonist Travis Bickle becomes a hero for saving the young prostitute’s life—Rupert Pupkin becomes a household name. We see bookstores carrying his autobiography, his manager is making him lots of money, he’s introduced onto his new show again, again, and again. “Let’s hear it for Rupert Pupkin! Rupert Pupkin, ladies and gentlemen! Rupert Pupkin!” He walks out into the spotlight and smiles into the excited warm welcoming audience. This will be the last we see of Rupert’s self promoting imagination before the final jump to black.

Rupert Pupkin is in all of us. He’s the thing you think to say after the time has passed to say it.

The question The King of Comedy leaves us with is: what does one do with a dream?

—Jon Dambacher


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 24, 2014 2:19 pm 
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I watched the Q&A supplement that came on the blu ray. The Q&A was conducted at the Tribeca Film Festival following the screening of The King of Comedy. It is the worst Q&A I've ever seen. It was to the point of uncomfortable. I always love listening to Scorsese talk about films, but this was painful. Neither Scorsese or De Niro gave any substance and didn't seem to recall many details of the production. There was also gaps of silence. De Niro stammers and his thoughts are all fragmented. This is definitely not a good format for him. They even forgot how they got Lewis involved in the film. Then Lewis was brought out 10 minutes into the session. He was OK until he started bashing Bernhard. Of course, her video contribution to the session instigated Jerry Lewis going off on her. All the way around, it was very disappointing.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 24, 2014 8:40 pm 

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Saw The King of Comedy on Blu earlier this year. Wow - what a beautiful print - the PQ is amazing, and almost flawless.

Pupkin is almost the anti-Travis Bickle; while Bickle was somewhat of a misanthrope, Pupkin really wants people to like him, so I was very amused at his being overly friendly & glad handing those around him; of course, he had an agenda behind this, but that didn't make him any less funny. That being said, Pupkin was like Bickle due to their both being on the fringes of society, and also both became famous by doing something anti-social at the end of these respective films.

Pupkin has one of the worst wardrobes I've ever seen in cinema; the blue suit, yellow tie, and white shoes ensemble were awful, and his haircut would look appropriate - on a 5-year old back in the '70's. What makes this even funnier is that you get the impression that he thinks he looked good (i.e., Napoleon Dynamite wearing that terrible polyester suit & thinking he looked great)! Hilarious!

In addition to this, Pupkin has possibly the funniest name in cinema. It was hilarious how everyone would mis-pronounce his name, i.e. "Pumpkin", "Potkin", "Pipkin", "Puffin", etc.

The scene when Pupkin & his would-be girlfriend ended up at Jerry Langford's house uninvited was awkward & painfully funny; it was hilarious how the butler & maid reacted to him; also funny was how the "girlfriend" ripped off a trinket from Jerry's table right before they were kicked out

The scenes where Pupkin was doing his monologues in his basement & was constantly interrupted by his mother telling him to keep it down were extremely funny...he reminded me of a little kid being reprimanded by his parents for acting up.

The scene when Pupkin went to the office and was told to wait (and wait, and wait, and wait) was painfully funny, since you could really feel for the guy.....

Jerry Lewis was spot-on as the put-upon celebrity who is sick & tired of putting up with people harassing him because of his famous status; great acting, but I'm guessing he was also playing himself, so it probably wasn't too much of a stretch...

I liked the "dream sequence/fantasy" scene where Pupkin imagined meeting his old high school principal on the JL show; the line where he laughed and said, "Why do you have this guy on?! He's an enemy!" was great!

A couple of observations about Rubert's stand-up monologue at the end: when Rupert mentioned that his mother had been dead for years during the final monologue, I felt he was lying since he spoke to his mother several times at his home. However, maybe he was telling the truth here...So, there are two possibilities: Either his mother is dead & he's telling the truth at the end, or he's lying during the end monologue & his mother is alive. Personally, I find the idea of this guy living in his mother's basement & her telling him to keep it down so he won't wake up the neighbors pathetically funny; this living situation really fits Rupert's character...

Also, though I actually found the stand-up routine that Pupkin did on the TV show funny (and laughed out loud at much of this), it's interesting because I thought the whole point of the film was that Pupkin wasn't supposed to be a good comedian by any means, just a wannabe...I think this film was trying to make a point about the fickleness of being a a comedian. I.e., what some people find funny others think is stupid...For example, I'm a huge fan of the TV show Seinfeld & think it's one of the most brilliant & clever comedies of all time - however, I don't think Seinfeld doing his stand up routines (like he does on the beginning of the shows) to be that funny - I actually find the humor quite dry and bland; IMHO these intros. just serve as a tool to set up the story told in each episode.

I found the last scenes of the film which showed Pupkin becoming famous, i.e. being onstage, having his picture on magazine covers, all of his books at the bookstore, etc. very interesting. IMHO the message here was a commentary on how society treats these types of people, i.e. that in some cases bad behavior like this is rewarded instead of punished...This ending (i.e., Pupkin becoming a celebrity) being fantasy I don't believe. This sounds like a similar argument that was made re: the controversial ending of Taxi Driver; at the end of that film, after the final shoot-out where Travis "rescues" Iris (Jodi Foster), you later see a scene where Travis is lauded as a hero in the newspaper, he gets a thank-you letter from Iris' parents, and goes back to being a taxi driver. He even has Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) as a passenger at the very end of the film. However, I never thought this was anything other than reality, i.e. I believe that it was something that actually occured, and not something that Travis was imagining.

I feel the same way about the end of The King of Comedy; I do think it's something that actually happened, not something that Pupkin imagined. IMHO, the whole point about the end of both of these films (TD & TKOC) is to show how a society will laud a person for anti-social behavior.

That all being said, has Scorsese and/or the writer of The King of Comedy said anything about whether the ending of this film was actually supposed to be real?

In any case, amazing film. I hope that it reaches a wider audience with this Blu release.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2014 8:22 am 
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I picked this up over the weekend (Best Buy has it for $7 now) and watched it for the first time in thirty years. Practically every moment of this film was seared into my memory from that one viewing three decades ago, so there weren't a lot of surprises for me. If anything has changed in the culture, it might be the broader acceptance of what was once called "sick humor". In 1983, Pupkin's routine would definitely not have been suitable for The Tonight Show or its brethren. It may not be now, but jokes about alcoholic, abusive parents and vomiting would probably not cause as much of a flap on network TV. What is fascinating about Pupkin's climatic routine, filmed appropriately in a single, uninterrupted take, is that DeNiro sells it as comedy the best he can. Pupkin's timing is pretty good even if his material isn't particularly strong; you could almost believe this guy would have potential if he wasn't a sociopath.

What I could appreciate more this time around was Scorsese's deft handling of the dream sequences. We can see where the line blurs between Pupkin knowing he's indulging in a fanciful imagining and starting to believe his fantasies are true. So I think the ending is a combination of real/unreal...
[Reveal] Spoiler:
I believe Pupkin actually receives the media attention (and maybe even that book deal) as shown, but he elevates this experience in his mind until he is bathed in complete adulation with his silly name repeated again and again as in a mantra.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 24, 2015 12:23 pm 
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Man, having seen this again last night (hadn't seen it since my childhood, when my dad plunked me down for it), it immediately shoots up to the top of the Scorsese list for me, over the essentially perfect Goodfellas and Taxi Driver. What works so well for me is how many layers there are to the possibilities of things being real or imagined - the entire third act of the film is one big question mark, from the time of the abduction to the final frame. What is in Rupert's mind, and what isn't? Scorsese accomplishes a magnificent balancing act, making either answer possible for literally everything we see during that sequence of time, and smartly leaving out any kind of meetup between Pupkin and Langford in the flash forwards that would abandon the realism and establish that what we're seeing is almost certainly a fantasy of Pupkin's. Despite his delusions, he is so deliberate and almost slick throughout the film that even the scene in the bar when the monologue is on the television is as believable as something that's actually happening as something that is entirely his own fabrication, and the language of the film established early on is that the viewer needs to look for clues in characters' behavior to tell the two apart, and that we're not getting any filmmaking flourishes to reveal where the seams are between fantasy and reality. What a magnificent film!


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 22, 2017 2:10 pm 
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hearthesilence wrote:
I finally saw Scorsese's picture, "King of Comedy"...After seeing it, I feel like it's been overhyped a bit.


cdnchris wrote:
I always figured the last little bit was in his head (what makes me feel this way is the announcer keeps repeating himself during the last few moments, as if Rupert enjoys hearing this)


Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
If you look at the film in relation to the recent glut of reality shows, King of Comedy seems even more relevant.


I searched for this thread and to my surprise I started it. Funny that I used to view the film this way, because I do think of it as a masterpiece now. I'm not sure when my opinion of it began to change, but it wasn't a recent development.

Lewis's death prompted me to revisit the film, and not only has my appreciation for it grown, but I have to say it's incredibly sad and disturbing how well it's held up in the wake of Trump's election and how our reality TV culture set the course for this to happen.

I agree with Chris that the ending plays more like a delusion experienced by Pupkin, but if they wanted to, they could have made it the film's reality and have it work 35 years after the fact - given the cult of personality that's sprung up around Trump, the mass embrace of Pupkin despite his misdeeds (and the fame created simply for the fact that he was on TV) would make such an ending plausible rather than too outrageous.

I feel like Pupkin's growing pathology in the way he covets Langford's fame and fortune could be used as the emotional basis for Trump's growing antagonism and hostility towards Obama if one were to make a film on this past election. (Color aside, it's even remarkable how Pupkin's hair has a stylistic resemblance to Trump's hair now.)


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