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The King of Comedy [1983)

Rupert Pupkin.  The name seems funny.  It’s worth a chuckle.  And yet, this is a sad, sad story.

This is the best film Martin Scorsese has made.  It is one of the best films ever made.

Truly, it is a work of art.

The hubris…the guts it took to make this film…tremendous.

No one could have played Pupkin but De Niro.

Taxi Driver got close…real close!  But Rupert Pupkin is a more powerful character than even Travis Bickle.

Without giving too much away, lets just say that Jerry Lewis (yes, that Jerry Lewis) gets himself into a real pickle here.

De Niro and Lewis are both top-notch.  What takes it over the top?  Sandra Bernhard.  (Yes, that Sandra Bernhard.)

I would venture to guess that many film critics continue to fawn over Robert De Niro (as well they should), but Jerry Lewis and Sandra Bernhard are often discussed (respectively) in a different light.

Take Nick Tosches’ excellent book on Dean Martin (Dino:  Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams).  Though it’s been awhile since I read it, one certainly senses that the Lewis half of Martin and Lewis was not particularly enjoyable for the author to cover.

Dino was cool.  Lewis was the stooge.  Makes me think of Iggy Pop.  Anything for a laugh.  And Antonin Artaud.  Anything to connect with the audience.  And Brecht.  Ad nauseam.

And so, since so much has been written about De Niro, let’s take a moment to appreciate Jerry Lewis.  What is important is isolating this film from the rest of his oeuvre.  Jerry Lewis–in this film–is magnificent!

It is often joked that the French see something in Jerry Lewis which Americans do not.  Such a cultural survey runs the gamut from the influence of Lewis on Godard (see the set design in Tout va bien) to the commentary of “Weird Al” Yankovic (witness the song “Genius in France”).

I have nothing to add to the Lewis debate other than SEE THIS MOVIE!

And Sandra Bernhard…poor Sandra Bernhard.  When I was growing up she was also a sort of stooge.  Her act, so over the top…  And yet, in this film she not only displays the subtlety of acting genius but she’s also strangely attractive.

At this juncture it must be pointed out that Bernhard and De Niro are a team in this film (eventually).  They are like that great New York City punk duo Suicide.  Keep your dreams.  Dream baby dream.  It was Alan Vega and Martin Rev who were the true punks of the CBGB’s/Max’s Kansas City scene.

But back to De Niro and Bernhard…their “plan” in this movie is not unlike the art terrorism of Suicide.  Yes, the plot they concoct to fulfill their respective dreams often teeters like the famed Mercer Arts Center (which precipitously collapsed one day in SoHo).

This film is all about dreams.  It’s about those fantasies we have.  It’s the famous Marlon Brando quote come to life (“I coulda been somebody”).

Rupert Pupkin is 34.  He doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot of time.  And Masha (Bernhard)…she is in love from afar with a man (Lewis) at least twice her age.

The world is not kind to Pupkins.  And Mashas…  Jerry Langford (Lewis) brushes them both off.  And so begins an unholy alliance.

From the opening credits this is pure art.  Scorsese hits emotional chords previously unknown in the history of film.  Even Robbie Robertson gets it right with the Ray Charles song right off the bat.

It is Bernhard’s hands…pressed to the limousine window…in the flash of fame…frozen for a moment.  The roles have been reversed.

And what makes it all work?  Jerry Lewis plays it straight…scared shitless.  What a masterpiece.

To take an Alan Vega lyric for a détournement, “We’re all Pupkins.”

Thank you Marty.

-PD

8 responses to “The King of Comedy [1983)

  1. Love that film! And you mentioned Suicide too. Cool 🙂

  2. I remember seeing this a while ago and thinking how sad it was. The tragedy that comes with dreaming, I guess.

    Didn’t realize that was Jerry Lewis playing a decidedly non-slapstick role. Fascinating.

    I always learn something here.

  3. Love this post. I still need to see this film, Scorsese’s best eh?

    Again, love your unique approach and writing style mate. Great stuff

  4. I just saw that one a few years ago. Loved it. I also love Taxi driver. one of my favorite. Nice review.

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