No 87 - The King of Comedy
Director - Martin Scorsese
I have been meaning to watch this film for a long long time as I firmly believed that it was going to be brilliant. Thankfully, it didn't let me down. This is DeNiro and Scorsese at their prime in the 70's, the double act that bought us Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. So I was very excited about watching this film - which I had no prior knowledge of. I sat down with a stir fry (Toby bought the vegetables yesterday) and began to watch the film.
One of the best things about this film is that it is before DeNiro became "Cinematic Legend Robert DeNiro"(tm), and we get to see him acting and fully inhabiting the role.
His character is a fascinating study of the naive. A deluded figure who believes he should be famous but who isn't willing to do the necessary groundwork. It could be that this delusion comes from watching the fictional Jerry Langford show. Jerry went from being a nobody, to a guest host, to becoming the host of his own show. And Jerry Langford then sees to become the biggest celebrity ever ever ever. With a consistent Beatlemania following him around and persistent crazed stalkers.
However, what DeNiro's character - Rupert Pupkin - doesn't realise is that there would have been a lot of groundwork during the unknown period before Jerry became a guest host. Rupert doesn't understand or accept this and in his quest for fame fails to understand why he can't just walk into a guest slot on a TV show.... and it is this that makes his character so fascinating and occasionally psychotic.
So let us look at the character of Rupert Pupkin - The man wears superb suits and has a fantastic moustache. So he clearly deserves our respect. It must be noted that as he descends further into his insane delusions, and attempts a kidnap, his sartorial styling also suffers - resorting to Hawaiian shirts and huge 80s sunglasses. It is very sad.
It is not just Rupert Pupkin, this film looks at the whole world of the celeb hunters, those that follow the famous around as a need to validate their own lives. Most specifically, the character of Masha played by the frankly terrifying Sandra Bernhard. She begins merely obsessive, moving through letters and phone calls until she aids with the kidnap of Jerry Langford. Once involved with the kidnapping she enacts her most famous scene where she strips down to her underwear and mounts the gaffer taped up Jerry stating that she will enjoy some "Good old fashioned all American fun". This scene is so iconic that it has been recreated within Family Guy with Meg and Brian.... Sadly YouTube failed me completely and I couldn't find clips for either. I mean I didn't look much. But even so....
Jerry's life seems to be a bit of a nightmare, he is constantly hounded by the public and as the film progresses he gets more and more pissed off. This is made clear by Jerry when Rupert claims he will become 50 times more famous than Jerry:
Rupert Pupkin: I'm gonna work 50 times harder, and I'm gonna be 50 times more famous than you.
Jerry Langford: Then you're gonna have idiots like you plaguing your life!
It makes me think of what Stephen Fry said last year about fame. The difficulties in becoming 'public property' and dealing with the demands of the public.
But - despite all these excellent characters there is one that shines through. The excellent Kim Chan as Jerry's manservant Jonno. His comic timing is spot on and he bemusement is hilarious as Rupert struts into Jerry's home and makes his demands. The butler's confusion to Jerry's delusion is the entire film boiled down in one micromoment.
The world watches on in confusion, unable to make their point to Rupert as he makes his ludicrous claims an remains thoroughly deluded.
It is an excellent film about the problems of delusion and well worth a watch.
And, Pupkin's stand up routine (when we eventually see it) is really rather funny (if unfinished.... which is what he film always says... and is far better a conclusion than Pupkin just being rubbish)
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 55. All right, but in our garage? And when they tested her... they found out that her alcohol had 2% 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 13 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.
And the final scene could be either reality or fantasy... it is never explained and I think that makes it a better ending.