The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983)
Aspiring comic Rupert Pupkin wants to achieve success in showbiz, by resorting to stalking his idol, a late night talk show host who craves his own privacy.
The post-Raging Bull era of Martin Scorsese’s career has been very difficult. Many critics and fans argue that the 1980’s was the worst decade in his brilliant career. The films he directed between two of his greatest films Raging Bull in 1980 and GoodFellas in 1990 were; The King of Comedy (1983) After Hours (1985) The Color of Money (1986) The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Except for the Tom Cruise/Paul Newman sequel to The Hustler called The Color of Money, we have a bunch of very underrated and underappreciated movies.
With Robert DeNiro as Rupert Pupkin, Jerry Lewis as Jerry Langford, and Sandra Bernhard as Masha, The King of Comedy is the story of Rupert who fantasies about being popular and getting the opportunity to be on Jerry’s daily late show to get his “fifteen minutes of glory”. A phenomenon well described by artist Andy Warhol. To achieve that Rupert will stalk Jerry and keep asking for a shot. After he got rejected enough, he decides to simply kidnap the host of the show. It is far from being a total comedy, we are more on the laughter side than on the real good laugh. It’s a movie about rejection, isolation and how fame is a false ideal. Just like Roger Ebert rightly wrote about this film, no one listens and everyone just wait for the other character to finish talking to talk himself.
At one point, Pupkin’s mother, where he lives in the basement, is only a voice and I read somewhere that it would probably be an imagined character just like the case of Norman Bates but to a lesser degree. Pupkin is clearly a man with mental troubles and his obsession: fame and popularity are illness of our contemporary world. The message of The King of Comedy is still very fresh and actual with the countless Reality-Television, instant stars, the social networks, etc. Everyone wants to be someone and will do anything to grab it and keep it.
The performances are terrific and offsetting at first because this is not a Scorsese of the 1970’s. It is a little movie that plays on characters and the excellent script of Paul D. Zimmerman. The story is multi-layered and the many levels of reading of the film are very interesting. Far from being Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, it is a very personal effort and another exceptional pairing with DeNiro. The later is unrecognisable in his manic interpretation of Rupert Pupkin. Highly recommended.