Netflix allows me to see movies I have never even heard of. Sometimes this is a good thing. While others times I hadn't heard of the film for a good reason: it wasn't very good. Today's review of a movie I had never heard of before last week is of "The King of Comedy," the least well-known of the Martin Scorsese-Robert De Niro collaborations.
The film came out in 1983 - I was 2 - and is about Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) an aspiring comedian with an unhealthy fixation on late-night host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). "King" borrows a bit from Psycho (Pupkin has recreated a set like Langford's in his mother's basement, though it appears his mother is still alive, not a skeleton). In fact, it could be alleged that Seinfeld ripped this film off in the "Merv Griffin Show" episode, but we'll have to save that for another day. Along with Psycho, the film follows the plotlines of many other "perverse fascination/assassination" films where a celebrity is abducted or murdered. After many attempts to have Langford listen to his audition tape, De Niro, who is only somewhat convincing as a down-on-his-luck geek, ends up abducting Lewis and holding him hostage with his release depending on De Niro being able to do his act on that night's show. De Niro does his predictably laughless act (I was born in Clifton, NJ - before that was a federal offense!) and then is arrested. In the interim, a crazy Sandra Bernhard acts crazily crazy in front of her love object Lewis. For this role, it was perfect casting.
De Niro is sent to prison, but when he gets out, he has a bestselling book, lots of comedy work and his face is known worldwide. And while every director whose film doesn't break the box office takes the time in the making-of DVD featurette to say the movie was "ahead of its time" - in this case, when Scorsese says it (and he does, let there be no doubt), it's actually true. Seeing this movie now makes a lot more sense to me than I think it would have to someone my age in 1983. The focus on celebrity is ubiquitous (or at least it seems like it is when you get three channels and they are always showing ET, Access Hollywood or the Emmys).
While movie watchers in 1983 may have been simply disturbed or bored by Rupert Pupkin (Scorsese said Entertainment Weekly called the movie the biggest flop of the year at the time), I think today's celebrity-soaked sycophants would be pulling for him. Pupkin gets his 900 seconds of notoriety (avoid cliches like the plague...whoops!), and I can't help but feel that lots of people would trade places with him, including the stint in prison.
I don't know what this means for me, you, our society, etc. Maybe we aren't better off than we were in 1983, that simpler time of almost a quarter century ago. But I know one thing: DVDs and Netflix didn't exist then, so this conversation probably wouldn't be happening. So although I have to put up with the Britney guy, Mike Patrick, Mike Gundy and sneezing pandas, I don't mind. I'll get by.
Quick obscure film side note: I was reading a book that mentioned a 1978 film called "The Big Fix" starring Richard Dreyfuss. I wish it were on DVD because I've heard it's good. But alas, it is not. I was wondering if some of my...ahem...older readers had possibly seen this film or were aware of it at the time. The book I was reading that mentioned the film excerpted a great line in which Dreyfuss, playing Private Investigator Moses Wine is asked why his arm is broken. His reply is priceless:
"You know, a couple of cops hassling a black kid."
Today's Arizona Adventure!
3 years ago