Sunday, July 30, 2023

The King of Comedy (1982)

There are some artists who are difficult to talk about.  This is not for any of the usual reasons.  There's little in the way scandal or gossip to go around here.  Nor has the artist ever done or said anything controversial or incorrect.  In fact, he's gone on the record of making a number of worthy comments, and donating to generous causes.  Instead, the real challenge comes from having to deal with a filmmaker who has built up such an artistic reputation for himself, that any attempt to so much as tackle even the least of his films is intimidating to the critic.  This goes double for when you're trying to talk about the cinematic career of Martin Scorsese.  It's reached a point where just saying his name can sometimes make even the boldest of cinemaphiles speak in hushed whispers, as if some long honored potentate had entered the room.  Bear in mind, this is the response that he manages to get out of all of the major headline critics out there (however little of them remain).  Now can you imagine what kind of an impression he's bound to leave on someone who is literally just a face in the aisles?  The prospect of knowing where to begin with a director like him is discouraging, to say the least.  This stems from the fact that it seems in order to talk about Scorsese, or his films, one would have to talk a little bit about everything else there is in life, or whatever it is you choose to call an experience like this, such as it is..

Or at least this is crippling sense of obligation that his reputation is bound to leave the average critic saddled with.  The reaction is a purely psychological one, and it probably has even less basis in actual fact.  Odds are even the man who helped create Travis Bickle is a smart, mostly even tempered and mild, magnanimous sort of person if you ever met him.  It also doesn't help to keep a maxim of Stephen King's in mind, even when talking about the guy who made Goodfellas.  King said he has to put his pants on one leg at a time, every morning.  No doubt this inescapable fact applies to Scorsese as well.  It still leaves the critic with a formidable challenge.  Where do you begin to discuss the art of someone who is held to be the American Filmmaker?  Right now, the best place I can think of is with a brief history of the development of the artist's mind.  For Martin Charles Scorsese, the entire process of thought began on the day of November 17th, 1942.  His city of birth, the main setting of his life which would go on to become something of a recurring major character in all of his work, was New York City.

To claim that the Big Apple has left an impact on the kind of artist Scorsese has become is a bit like saying that Charles Dickens knew how to write about street life in London.  Both statements are true, and therefore don't even begin to take into account the ways in which an early exposure to the often perilous street life of a gritty urban center went on to shape the aesthetic approach of each of these creators.  In both cases, what the reader or viewer is confronted with is a pen or camera that can't seem to help showing off the Best and Worst of Times.  Whenever Dickens or his New York counterpart focus the lens in on a particular incident, it doesn't take long for either of them to start recounting all the important narrative details with an immediate, visceral quality that either makes the characters jump off of the page, and directly into your mind for all time.  Or else the imagery and the incidents depicted will grab you by the jugular, and then not let go for the entire runtime.  In Scorsese's case, his camera always winds up lingering on matters of transgression, guilt, and the held out possibility of redemption.

These appear to be the three intertwined themes that have haunted the stage of his particular brand of cinema, from the very first.  In every movie he's ever made, he returns to these three hands in the tarot card deck, and then will always proceed to play a constant stream of variations on these ideas with a passion that borders on the obsessive.  What's important to realize is that it was New York itself which seems to have taught him his first important lessons in exploring these related ideas.  It's a cinch to say he grew up in a pretty rough neighborhood.  For whatever reason, his parents, Charles and Catherine, moved into the Little Italy district of Manhattan.  Both of them deserve a bit of credit here, before we continue to look at the way NYC molded the artist's imagination, because in a very real sense, it started with the both of them in a way I never would have expected.  Both of his folks worked in New York's Garment District, yet each of them also moonlighted as (very small) part time actors.  Now this was something I wasn't aware of until I started doing research for this article.  It's one of those minor details that tend to jump out at you from left field.  It's the puzzle piece that helps to complete the picture.

Knowing that Scorsese's parents were actor paints his childhood in a light that I'm not sure how well known this was.  Although it's possible this crucial snippet of information probably is known among his most ardent fans.  Whatever the case, one key fact remains.  It is now possible to assume that the director was the product of an artistic household.  If this is the case, then we have an important answer in terms of figuring out where Scorsese originally got his artistic temperament from.  It was nurtured in him almost from the start, by the very people who helped create him together.  His parents were able to pass along their shared enthusiasm for the arts along to their son.  He, in turn, appears to have gone on to put some very good use to it.  The city itself, meanwhile, has gone a long way to conditioning the type of art that Scorsese utilizes in his stories.  Most of the director's films contain a heightened sense of gritty urban realism.  The major focus always tends to revolve around life on the street in various capacities.  It almost makes sense to describe the director as one of the major poet's of the City.

The way this aspect of his career got started appears to stem from a bout of childhood illness.  Scorsese was the victim of asthma as a boy, and this meant that he often was unable to participate in sports, or a lot of the other extracurricular outdoor activities that children were allowed to get up to in a more permissive age.  This meant the director was often confined to his room, or else the stoop of his apartment complex; the closest thing he had to a family household.  It was from both of these enforced vantage points that the young Martin was turned from a participant, into a viewer.  It might have even turned him into an accidental sort of voyeur, though never in the usual sense of the term.

Instead, his asthma had the effect of turning him into an often unwilling observer of New York street life.  Here's the part that's difficult to write about because of the relative lack of information.  This is one of the few topics that has resulted in a certain reticence on the part of the filmmaker.  It's clear that the time spent staring out the window of his own childhood room has left one of the final decisive impacts on Scorsese's cinema.  It appears to be the first vantage point that gave him an unwanted insight that the world could sometimes be a violent place.  One is reminded of a few early scenes in Goodfellas where the young Henry Hill sometimes catches sight of the brutal and violent crimes that are committed on the street, whether in broad daylight, or the darkest side of night.  While that film is based on the autobiography of another person, it has been implied, here and there, that the event of a young mind witnessing acts of violence on the "mean streets" is something that both Scorsese and the real life Hill share in common.  This also accounts for the director's seemingly natural indirectness, whenever he's seen fit to mention (he's never truly discussed) the criminal acts that crossed his path.

Unlike Hill (both on screen and in real life), Scorsese was never allured by gang land life as it played out in front of him.  Instead, much like Stephen King, it drove into his impressionable young mind that he should always watch out for the bad men, while also giving him the nagging curiosity of wanting to understand how seemingly normal people can be driven to such heinous acts.  If there is any influence that one should point to as perhaps the final determining factor in the kind of artist Scorsese has since become, then any future scholar on his life would do well to focus in on that childhood window.  For strange as it may sound, it was this location that might be cited as one of the crucial inflection points for the development of the street poet's mind.  It is just possible to look at that whole real life scene, and realize that one is looking at a reality which is also a kind of symbol, perhaps even a parable.  The image of the young child at the window conjures up the curious notion of the young man almost as the accidental spectator of an ongoing pageant play.  For a brief moment, it's almost as if Shakespeare's notion has taken on an ironic life of its own.  All the world has become a stage for the child, and all the men and women in it merely players with their entrances and exists, some of which are violent.

More than this it's impossible to say or comment on.  Scorsese's exposure to New York gang life appears to stem from the time when a bad chest turned him into a spectator of the mean streets.  It's clear enough that it left a mark on the young artist, and that a lot of his art stems from what he saw from his bedroom window as a boy.  In this, Scorsese's experience bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Robert Louis Stevenson, of all people.  The Scottish writer was another artist for whom the bedroom window became a kind of natural proscenium looking out onto a real world stage.  The difference is Stevenson's experience resulted in giving him a lifetime of inspiration for Romantic adventure.  While it's a mistake (even a gross simplification) to call Scorsese the Mr. Hyde to Stevenson's Jekyll, what can be said is that with the director of Taxi Driver, it's almost as if the childhood theater window has been flipped on its head, or else the "entertainment program" consisted of a far gritter kind of drama.

From his experiences at the window, the artist soon learned not just the reality of both personal and gang land related violence, but also the stirrings of wondering why and how such things occur in the first place.  What is it that could drive a human being to go so far out on a limb as to be in danger of losing himself?  It's a question that serves as the driving engine for just about every one of the director's films.  And while he seems to have arrived at his own answers to this obsessive question, there seems little doubt that it all got started by both the window and the street.  The final ingredient in the artist's development is the most straightforward.  Once again, it was the product of asthma, more than anything else.  Since young Marty couldn't just go outside and play like the other boys, his parents took pity on him, and escorted him through the streets to the location of their own favorite pastime, the local movie house.  It's the last piece of the puzzle that is Scorsese's mental storehouse, and it could almost speak for itself, if everyone in the audience had a greater knowledge of the history of the movies (web).

The fact is Scorsese is one of those people who are best described as a walking encyclopedia of film.  He's seen and is knowledgeable about more films that most of our parents have forgotten by the time they got out of college.  Scorsese is the one with an actual devotion to the medium and its history.  Something tells me that if you want to know the contents of the director's min,d you should either ask him to show the world both his library of books and films.  If a list or catalogue was ever made of those items, it would go a long way toward giving us the literal inside of the director's mind.  When it comes to catching a glimpse of the other directors and artists who have shaped Scorsese's mind, and hence his art, then a basic roll call would give you the following names: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Samuel Fuller, John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Roberto Rossellini, Akira Kurosawa, Elia Kazan, Alexander Korda, David Selznick, Roger Corman, Orson Welles, and John Ford.  Now there are two ways of reacting to a casting call like that.  One of them is optional, the other isn't.  

The optional one is open to anybody in the aisles who winds up taking more than just a passing interest in the narratives that unfold up on the screen.  These are the people who don't just treat films, or storytelling in general, as a passing moment's diversion.  Those who believe the Arts to have an objective life value of its own will often wind up studying the narratives they love.  Their reasons for doing this all come down to one motivation.  They found something they enjoyed.  This enjoyment has reached a level in them that it doesn't for the rest of the audience.  Sometimes an exposure to the right story at just the right time can be enough to help the cinemaphile set their own course in Film Studies, and from there, they go on to learn all they can about the directors listed above.  They'll study their careers, which means acquainting themselves with all the films they made.  They'll grow a familiarity with the history of the movies beyond the current, late stage blockbuster era, which seems to be all that the rest of us know.  They'll learn about all the different types of stories you can tell, and of all the possibilities for artistic creativity this can lead to.  This is the kind of thing that guys like Scorsese, and later his friends such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg did when they were growing up.

They've since been labeled as The Movie Brats, and that's how they were as kids.  These were the geeks tucked away in the corner of the classroom who often took the brunt of bullying in school, weren't all that popular with the girls, and always they tended to be considered kind of "out of it".  There was pretty much no way in hell someone like young Marty was going to be Mr. Popular growing up.  He, Steve, or George might have their own circle of friends, yet if you'd been around back then, you could have told from just one glance that they were the original Geek Squad, and their reputation back then wasn't as improved as it is now.  Basically they were all just a bunch of lonely outcasts who often went to the movies as a means of escaping from the hassles most of their classmates put them through.  The ironic outcome is that in looking for a place to escape to, all three of them found a shared way of plugging into reality.  It was the movies that gave them a sense of purpose, and above all, a future.

That's what separated them from the rest of the faces staring back up at the screen.  If you mention names like Sam Fuller or Kurosawa to the average person on the street, odds are even that person won't have much choice in the matter.  All he or she will be able to do is give you a puzzled look and maybe ask you why you're wasting their time?  Or if they're the Good Samaritan types, then they'll say maybe I can help you look for them.  Is your friend lost?  In either case, the result is the same.  Both examples are good enough snapshots of what became of Scorsese's classmates after they all left high school and college.  They all became Mr. and Mrs. Next Door, and have gone on to have lives that devotes little time to people like Melvin Van Peebles, or Frederico Fellini.  It really does seem to need a proper artistic temperament, like the one Scorsese has, in order to give those names a real appreciation.

And so, that is a pretty good beginner's summation of the career of a guy who is still regarded (in most pop culture circles, anyway) as the premiere filmmaker in America to this day.  Also, here I'm still left with the question I opened this article with.  Where do you even begin to talk about a director who has gone on to cast as big a shadow as that of Martin Scorsese?  As with every monumental task, the greatest advice on hand to offer seems to be that it's best to start out small, and then work your way up as you go.  That's why I've decided to begin my discussion of  Mr. Goodfellas by talking about one of the more obscure pictures he's made over the course of his career.  It's also something of an oddity in the director's filmography in that it's one of the few comedies he's ever tried to tackle.  The only other films of his that fit this description are After Hours (1985), and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).  The one I'm here to talk about counts as the first time Scorsese ever tried to make the audience laugh.  It was a minor release that happened way back in 1982, starring Robert De Niro, called, The King of Comedy.

The Story.

I wonder how many of us out there know of guys like Rupert Pupkin (De Niro).  There's a curious kind of ubiquity about his sort.  It's like they belong to an invisible fraternity that occupies a space somewhere at the back of our mind, on occasion.  At the same time, these days, it's like you can see others just like him everywhere you turn, or for instance whenever you log in online.  I think most of YouTube is taken over by guys like Rupert nowadays.  You must have some idea of the kind of person I'm talking about, right?  They start out as just faces next door.  Sometimes they can be polite.  They at least try to do their best to take an interest in others.  And it's always easy to spot the one, single, off-note that all of them seem to share.  Sooner or later, no matter what happens, they'll make themselves the center of attention.  It's always got to be about them.  Often this desire comes at the exclusion of others.  It's like there's this homing beacon inside of their heads.  Guys like Rupert are always on the lookout for the nearest spotlight.  It can be an interesting experience living near them, in many ways.

Here's this guy, for instance.  He starts out as nobody, just a face in the crowd from Clifton, New Jersey, and here's where things get "interesting".  People like Rupert tend to be wary about discussing their pasts.  Have you ever noticed that?  I don't mean anything like a life story confession, or something like that.  I just mean the kind of personal details anyone might share or casually drop during the course of a normal conversation.  Then again, it's not as if the Ruperts are all that in to a normal dialogue between equals.  Instead, it's like that have this way of making sure they tell you only what they want yo to know.  Everything he says, or whatever else he does, it's always got to be about the public image.

A psychologist named Carl Jung once claimed that sometimes people will construct a series of mental masks (for lack of a better word) known as Personas, that they will then "wear" as part of how they present themselves to the outside world.  Basically, it's a psychological strategy that some of us develop as a means of keeping a wall between ourselves and others.  It goes without saying that in Jung's view, the need to rely on a Persona was never a good sign for that person's mental health.  That's kind of how it is for Rupert.  He's always trying to put on a show, or everything is all about the act.  That's sort of the key word that sums up this guy.  All their lives, people like this are on a constant search for their own place in the spotlight.  I guess there's nothing too wrong in that, as long as you go about it the right way.  The trouble with Rupert is he can never be bothered about right or wrong ways of doing things.

His big goal in life appears to have been the same for some time now.  He wants to get a career making Big Break into showbiz, as a guest star on The Jerry Langford Show, the top rated program on American television.  Rupert is a big fan of Jerry's, or at least those are the "terms" he uses to describe it.  What can be said with any degree of certainty is that Rupert can often be found stationing himself in and around the places that the talk show host likes to frequent (though if he knew he was being followed, I wonder how long any lingering fondness for those places would last?).  Rupert is always hanging around outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, waiting for a chance to catch the TV personality's eye.  One night after a show, Rupert is lucky enough to corner Langford (Jerry Lewis) in his own limo as he's trying to reach his apartment.  It's there the schlub from Clifton gets to make his big pitch.  Just a one shot chance, that's all he'd like, at best, at least maybe to start out with.  His thinking is that if he can make it on Jerry's show, then from there he can move on to bigger and better things.  Maybe even a TV series of his own.  Right now, however, he'd very much appreciate it if Jerry gave him the spotlight.

Now to his credit, Langford is able to stifle the same natural impulses or reactions that any of us would have.  Rather than cringing, flinching away, or ordering the creep whose just cornered us to get the fuck out of the car, Jerry at least grants Rupert want he mistakenly thinks is all he wants.  He gives the outsider an audience, and a bit of actual good advice.  If you want to make it in showbiz as a comedian, then there are several avenues worth exploring.  The surest way to make in comedy is to take the same way everyone does in order to reach Carnegie Hall: practice, man, practice.  In other words, first try and see if you have any actual talent.  Come up with material of your own, then try and see if there's anything really funny about it.  If there is, then focus in on what works, or at least has even the slimmest chance of drawing a laugh from the audience.  Work on both the material, and the craft that's necessary to make it ready for the public stage.  Brush up on your performance skills.  Work on your delivery, and that all important sense of comic timing.  Try out for some local comedy clubs around the neighborhood, and if you get any good notices, then maybe Jerry will hear about you someday.

All of this advice is good, and to the point.  In fact, all that Jerry is telling Rupert in that cornered moment is little more than his own story of what it took for him to reach the big leagues.  Every great comic started out small.  It's a truism that remains as unshakable whether you're just the latest audition at a nearby bar, or else just some Morningside Heights kid by the name of George Carlin.  Think of any of the biggest names in comedy, and then realize they all started out small.  In fact, it's even possible to think of someone who used to be in Rupert's shoes, and started out with even less to work with.  If Pupkin thinks he's at the lower end of the food chain, then let's put him in his place with just two, never to be forgotten words: Richard Pryor.  He had it worse in ways that the boy from Clifton will ever realize, and yet look at what that guy accomplished.  Compared to Pryor, Pupkin is living his best, and the real punchline is he can't even see it.  This irony is compounded by the fact that Rupert thinks he's ready for Prime Time, when it's painfully obvious this is still not the case, not by any long shot.

In a way, though, it's possible to make a case that none of these obvious, and natural roadblocks matter.  Not to guys like Rupert, at least.  There's a few other things the Pupkin's of the world have in common.  Aside from a cloying sense of narcissistic neediness, a lot of them have this easily acquired sense of drive and determination, even if it all of it applies to nothing else except getting their own way.  It's here where the real trouble starts to come in.  At best, Rupert and others like him are just these pathetic outcasts with no people skills, and little desire to either learn or earn them.  Trying to live normally amongst others is not the topmost life goal for the type of person Rupert is.  What he is interested in is where the worst case scenario comes in to play.  Some don't just crave the spotlight.  For a select few out there, it's more accurate to describe the stage lights as if they're an incandescent fix they need in order to satiate the invisible monkey riding their backs.  We're not talking about any cute little organ grinder's pet.  What Rupert's got is one mean baboon that likes to bear its teeth every time he grins.

The trick with a monkey like that is the way to its heart isn't via all the usual routes.  The bottle, needle, or pill is not what satisfies this particular imp of the perverse.  The only thing that makes that ugly bastard happy is the roar of the crowd, whether they've earned it or not.  And Rupert isn't the kind of guy whose willing to either earn those accolades.  Nor is he ever going to be willing to rest content in waiting for it to come to him.  Patience is not a virtue that Pupkin is interested in cultivating.  Like any good little junkie, all he desires is his fix and he wants it several yesterdays ago, and heaven help any poor soul who gets in his way.  See, the thing is, guys like him just don't take no for an answer.  You can turn them away at the front door, and there they'll be the very next day, bright and early, as if they've never learned a thing.  In a very real sense, they probably haven't, not where the monkey is concerned.

There's a pattern to behavior like this.  The way these things escalate is that they start out small.  First, Rupert will just ignore the fact that they've been told "don't call us, we'll call you".  That is not what he wants, nor what he hears.  So, there he is again, right at the front desk, putting on a air of patience that doesn't exist.  If you turn him away again, he'll just show up once more, wanting to know "is Jerry in yet"?  You can of course show him the door once more.  The next day?  "Excuse me, please.  I have to get in to see Jerry.  We've got a very important meeting, him and me".  Go ahead and toss him out again, for all the good you might think it will do.  All it accomplishes is that Rupert decides to barge his way past the secretaries, and begin stalking the halls of NBC, looking for, not his "idol" so much.  It's really like I said before.  All that matters is "the fix", and he's here to get it.  So now you have grounds for barring Clifton, NJ from the premises.  Problem solved, right?  If only life would just cooperate every now and again on such a simple level.  That's not too much to ask, at least I hope it isn't.  It could be all kinds of bad news if it turns out there's no surefire guard against persistent pests like that.  And if that's the case, well, I guess it just begs an obvious yet troubling question.  Then what do you do?

Whatever the answer is, the one thing that is certain is you don't solve a problem like Rupert just by telling to keep the fuck out of your life.  The sentiment is more than understandable, and sometimes its still less than spit in the ocean.  See, here's where all the dials begin to tip over into condition red.  If you confront someone like Rupert, and threaten them with legal action if they don't leave you alone, well, sometimes guys like that have a tendency to get..."creative".  I'm not just talking about tracking you down to where you live, and then inviting themselves into (and thus in some sense violating) your own home.  No, sad to say, it doesn't end there.  You've got to pay attention to all the warning signs here.  Can you dig it?  Some junkies lost the ability to take no for an answer years before they even met you.  If they are that desperate for the kind of fix only the spotlight can give them, then rest assured, they'll find their way toward it, by hook or crook.  This determination can apply even to the point of tracking down your chosen "idol" and kidnapping them at gunpoint, then threatening to end your life if the producers of Langford's TV series don't grant him some time on tonight's show.  Some of us have known guys like Rupert Pupkin in our lives.  I just hope those who do have some way to keep safe.

Conclusion: Taxi Driver, the Comedy.

If I'm being honest, this is a film forced me to think about a lot of things.  That's a compliment, by the way, and its also one of the best achievements that any well written story can hope to accomplish.  The trick with this movie, however, is that it will probably say different things to different viewers.  I think Scorsese has told the kind of narrative that will come off as a refreshingly light-hearted barb thrown at both the entertainment industry, and its fans.  To be fair to the majority, this is a definite part of the film's strategy.  However, I think such a basic take kind of misses just how far the satire goes, or the kind of rabbit hole De Niro and the director are leading us down.  For people like me, those in the audience who take a vested interest in the arts, the pathetic story of Rupert Pupkin is going to sound much harsher, because a lot of the warning signals it telegraphs are a lot more true now than when it was first released.  Which explains why it sounds like I'm still trying to collect my thoughts on this film.  This is the kind of film that will hit any English or Arts Major and Cinephile where they live.

Perhaps the best part about the underlying strategy of Scorsese's film is that it can sneak up on you, without the viewer ever being aware of it.  In my case, the first thing that caught my attention wasn't the picture itself.  Instead, it was Roger Ebert's visceral bashing of the movie in his syndicated column.  Now just to be clear, though with no disrespect, I belong to the camp that thinks time has been a lot kinder to this film than history's most famous movie critic.  The current verdict is a lot more favorable to Scorsese and De Niro's efforts than Ebert ever was to start with, and even Roger was willing to cautiously revise his views of the story when revisiting it for a later article.  This was how I first heard of The King of Comedy.  It was the occasional monitoring of the critic's going back and forth on the film that eventually led me to think it would probably be worth checking out, if only out of curiosity..  Any picture that can get that much of a rise out of the mighty Ebert is bound to deserve some kind of an audience, at the very least.  So that's how my history with this film began, and the way it has played out is just as humorous.  I actually stopped watching in the middle of my first viewing, believe it or not.

My my case wasn't like Ebert's, however.  I didn't quit the picture because it was too emotionally exhausting, or anything like that.  Instead, I was confronted with a story that appeared controlled and measured for a film about a stalker fan.  In fact, it seemed to contain a great deal of thought put into it.  Maybe that's one of the reasons for why I bailed out that first time.  Some part of my mind realized it was being shown a lot of food for consideration, and maybe I just needed more time to ponder over what I'd already been given.  At least this is the best reason I think of for why I acted like that.  What I can say with any degree of certainty is this.  I know my initial reaction wasn't negative.  At worst, I might have been struggling with the mildest form of puzzlement.  The key here is that it wasn't a form cognitive dissonance.  I wasn't watching the story and thinking, "This is too complex for me".  Instead, my initial reaction went something like this.  "Huh, well now that's kind of interesting.  I wonder what it all means.  I'd better stop and try to think this over a spell".  In other words, I was doing my best to give Scorsese the benefit of the doubt, and one of the unintended results (for either of us) is that I wound up treating the film like I would a book, if that makes any sense.  In other words, I would read a few passages, set the text aside, and then sooner or later pick it up again and carry on where I left off.

In the case of this film, however, when I returned to it after a length of time, I decided to go right back to the opening page.  This time, the film kept my attention riveted from beginning to end.  A lot of the answers to the questions I'd had about it the first time were beginning to fall into place as the story played out to its inevitable, tragicomic conclusion.  When the end came, and Van Morrison's Wonderful Remark began to play over the closing credits, there was no longer any doubt.  I knew I'd seen a pretty decent comedy thriller.  There were still a few lingering questions in my mind, however.  So I knew I'd need at least one more viewing in order to get as proper a reading as I could on the themes of the story.  So, I came back to it no more than just a week or two ago, and hence the article you're reading now.  It wasn't a case of third times the charm.  The film had already caught my interest with that first, groping towards understanding viewing.  Instead, it's more that this is when all the puzzle pieces fell into place.

I'm now able to say that there are plenty of reasons for considering The King of Comedy to be an underrated entry in a very powerful list of directorial efforts.  In fact, I find myself siding with those who claim it as one of Scorsese's unsung gems.  It's when we come to the reasons why the film works so well that a lot of soul searching has to come into play.  I don't know how that must sound, yet I'll swear it's the truth.  This is a film that forces anyone with a love for the Arts to take stock of what it is they think they're doing, and why.  All of this stems from the way the story portrays its main character.  

As brought to life by the director's long time collaborator, De Niro's protagonist leads us on a narrative journey through what is revealed to be a wickedly deceptive, even manipulative part of the American psyche.  The best part about this story is also its most disturbing.  For it reveals a few harsh truths about the way people relate to storytelling in general.  It reveals just how possible it is have an unhealthy relationship with the arts, and the costs that can entail.  It's telling, for instance, that when we first meet Rupert, he emerges as just another unremarkable face in an otherwise lonely crowd.  He'd probably escape our notice if the camera didn't stop to single him out among a flock of autograph hounds.

From the moment he's brought to our attention, however, the script doesn't waste it's time in letting us know something is off about this guy.  At first he gives off this air of a shy, awkward nerd (and it's something of a marvel to see De Niro play against the type of tough guy mold he's famous for), yet it doesn't take long for him to reveal a subtle note of cunning as things begin to unfold.  Right away, Paul Zimmerman's script presents the viewer with a few tell-tale signs that the main character is perhaps less than centered in his own story.  For instance, Rupert has this compulsion to dominate any conversation he feels is important.  He then seems to casually slip back into himself and not interact with any others around him, even on the crowded streets of New York.  The narrative will then treat us to glimpses of Pupkin's home life, and it's here that the first warning bells begin to trigger.  It isn't that Zimmerman paints a picture of Rupert living a very lonely existence within the confines of his own home.  It's what he does with his spare time that cues us into just how wrong things truly are.  For instance, we are treated to scenes of Pupkin practicing dialogues and monologues between himself and Jerry.

Now, it helps to bear something in mind.  Rupert is aiming for, first, a spot on Jerry's show.  After that, he hopes to one day be a successful comedian on his own.  It's all a bit of a lofty goal for the most of us.  However, knowing this is what he wants, the idea of a wannabe stand up artist running through skits and going over routines and sales pitches should, in theory, be no more different than the millions of other people who need to prepare for any possible success in their chosen profession.  The trouble is Rupert is never really shown doing what's necessary to make it in showbiz.  Rather than time spent honing his craft, and developing his talent, he instead holds forth in an imaginary jester's court of his own devising.  The man has somehow propped up a picture perfect cutout of Jerry Langford and other celebrities (one of whom is former Scorsese co-star, Liza Minnelli)), and he'll then situate himself between these prop figures and pretend to hold witty conversations in his head with them.  In addition, one entire back wall of his house is plastered with a blown up photo of an applauding audience.

All of this is verging into the realm of the creepy by this point.  The image of Rupert laughing at his own jokes while trying to entertain a series of lifeless mock ups gives the impression of watching a demented child playing with dolls.  The part that really tips everything into the red zone for me are the moments whenever Rupert is interrupted in his fantasies by the off-screen voice of Mrs. Pupkin, his mother (played, interestingly enough, by the director's actual, real life mom, Cathy Scorsese).  Now, the first time we here from her might not be just interesting, yet also telling.  She remains an unseen presence in the drama of her son's life.  She never appears on screen at any time.  She's just heard from, on occasion, and even then it's mostly just telling her little boy to try and keep the noise down.  

However, I'm starting to think there might be something important about the first time we hear from her.  She first breaks in on her son's daydreams to ask him just what it is he thinks he's doing?  Now it might help to notice just exactly what Rupert does when Mrs. Pupkin speaks up for this first time.  The main character does something you probably might not think about much, yet it may linger in your mind.  You expect Rupert to look at someone just out of camera range, and talk to her that way.

However, go back and look at this scene carefully, because that's not what happens.  Rupert doesn't look anywhere in a direction just off-screen, as if the person he's addressing is behind and to the left or right of the camera.  Instead, Rupert turns around, and addresses his whining comments to the open doorway of a bathroom that's just visible off to his left.  All Pupkin says basically amounts to a little kid whining that his mother is interrupting his fun.  It's a moment that serves to make the protagonist look all kinds of pathetic, if you read it one way.  However, a closer examination of this embarrassing exchange leaves room open for a more unsettling interpretation.  We hear Rupert's mother, yet we never see her.  Her son's gestures, however, tell us that she's just behind him in an adjacent restroom.  The trick is this exchange and action all take place in the course of a single, long take static shot.  The only movement from the camera is a slow dolly in toward De Niro as he's delivering his lines, and the toilet and sink are always just visible in the background  We never see anyone come in or go out of that restroom, and then suddenly a voice just echoes out from there, and Rupert responds to it as if he was never alone at all.

The trouble is the shot establishes that there's not much space in that part of the house.  It's basically a walk in closet with a few bits of plumbing attached.  That bathroom has been empty this while time.  And yet Pupkin thinks his mother is yelling at him from there.  Now I could be misreading that whole brief scene, yet I'm not the only one.  What Scorsese and Zimmerman seem to be hinting at in this moment is that Rupert is so delusional that he's sometimes prone to audible hallucinations.  In other words, the guy is plagued by voices only he can hear.  It's got to be one of the most subtle touches that I've ever witnessed in a Scorsese film, strange as it may sound.  It comes and goes in such a blink and you'll miss it moment, that it's no real wonder if just a handful of viewers in the audience has picked up on this hidden character note.  I'd argue its the one that whispers to us just how unhinged the story's main lead really is.  It's the secret ingredient in the movie's recipe which tells what kind of story it is.

If it hasn't become obvious by now, then it ought to be clear that the film De Niro, Zimmerman, and Scorsese are all making together concerns the kind of story that often winds up as one of the minor items on the eight o'clock evening news.  The world is full of stories like the one about the time this crazy fan tried to stalk a famous celebrity.  The trouble with this kind of plot is that it's one of those narratives with a disturbing habit of refusing to keep itself confined to the pages of fiction.  The world is full of guys like Rupert Pupkin.  I'm not even sure how far-fetched things are when De Niro's character reaches his breaking point and decides to kidnap Jerry Lewis's talk show host, and then hold him for ransom in exchange for a chance to perform his stand up routine on live television.  It's the kind of thing that has never really happened yet.  However, this is not the same as saying it couldn't happen one day.  In fact, a more tragic take on this kind of idea has played out not once but twice before in Hollywood history.  The less well known, yet still horrible versions of this tale are the unfortunate deaths of Judith Barsi and Dominique Dunne.  The most infamous example, however, remains the Manson Tate killings, and I wonder if Zimmerman was inspired by events such as this for his script.

Whatever the case, it's clear the film is meant to tackle some pretty heavy real life subject matter.  All that's left is to ask the question of whether or not it's any good at what it's trying to convey?  Well, it's like I said above.  This movie sneaks up on you with its theme and meaning.  It's a bit too polite to claim it's pretty good at this.  I almost want to say the picture has a wicked and knowing sense of humor that was ahead of its time in many way.  I'd also like to claim it still has a lot to teach the audience in the age of social media.  The fact is that as time has gone on, we've sort of caught up with this movie in a literal way.  Paul Zimmerman wrote his screenplay during the waning days of television, just before it started to lose its prestige as the dominant form of media in American life.  TV's Golden Age might have come and gone, and yet it was still kind of going from one strength to another.  In fact, the movie was made during the heyday of the classic 80s Saturday Morning Cartoon phase.  That was like the era that launched a thousand childhoods, in other words, mine included.  Meanwhile, someone like Johnny Carson was still considered the reigning king of late nights, and the script reflects all of this.

In many ways, it's possible now to say that we were a lot more naive then than we are now.  Yes, there had been cases of celebrity stalkers in the past.  Yet it's like every one of these incidents were so isolated and minuscule that we never thought it might be the signal of a larger problem afflicting a sizeable portion of the national psyche.  And I bring this up because I believe all of these factors help explain the initial backlash reaction this film got on its release, and how or why it's climbed the ladder with the passage of years, to the point where it's now seen as a hidden classic.  In many ways, King of Comedy was and remains a film that was ahead of its time.  It's really a diagnosis of a malady that was little recognized when it came out, and yet it's become all too clear in the age of social media.  For instance, as I was watching Scorsese's movie for this review, a funny thing happened.  I know what the main character's name is.  At the same time, it's like I was watching this Everyman figure who's name and face kept shifting from one moment to the next.  One minute he was Alex Jones.  Another time he was Bill O Reilly. In an earlier age people might have seen such real life figures as Rush Limbaugh.

Then again, you might have seen figures like Justin Kjellberg, Noah Antwiler, Justin Carmichael, Doug Walker, or any of a number of online celebrities who have managed to gain the kind of fame for themselves that Rupert always wanted.  And the way they've been able to achieve all this is pretty simple.  It's all summed up in two basic words: Social Media.  I think that stands as the key reason why this film has begun to garner so much acclaim in recent years.  There's also this correlative reason why it's starting to gain a greater fans base, as well.  I've described the movie as diagnosis of sorts, and what makes me think that description is true is because of how people have begun to turn to Scorsese's story as a kind of help, or tonic, if that makes any sense.  In other words, this overlooked comedy has found a new audience in a lot of social media users who are growing more concerned with the troubling nature of the new(ish) digital landscape.  In particular, this film seems to help them cope with the troubling levels of toxicity that continues to spread and go unaddressed by the people in charge online.

For most contemporary audiences, Rupert Pupkin is the poster boy for that kind of toxic online personality whose very repugnance is sort of this built-in reason for both his fame and celebrity. Like perhaps it makes more sense to label it as celebrity as notoriety, in the negative sense of the term.  It's no real secret that we've shifted into an age where trolling of various sorts has begun to replace a lot of the more traditional forms of entertainment that we used to rely on.  This is not something I condone, nor is there any way I can see this as any kind of positive development.  Then again, the people I'm thinking of would be more than happy to tell me to go fuck my feelings, and that goes for my life and family, too.  There is also a chunk of the audience who is willing to parrot those sentiments as well.  

Just so long as we never have to meet face to face, and I have all the physical and mental advantages.  In which case, he did it.  He made made me do it!  Let all of this stand as a good snapshot of where a troubling segment of the American population stands at the moment.  As troubling as it all is, my one hope in the midst of it is that at least I was able to be of some kind of public service by bringing attention to a national malady that still needs some kind of firm addressing.  In doing so, all I wish to accomplish is more or less the same thing Scorsese, Zimmerman, and De Niro have done together.

What this film has made me realize is that sometimes you really do need to learn how to watch for the Ruperts out there.  That seems to be the overall message that Zimmerman and Scorsese are aiming at.  Now with this in mind, it is possible to claim that Rupert does bear a similarity or two with one of De Niro's more iconic roles in a previous Scorsese film.  And perhaps it's best to admit here that it's easy to see a certain level of thematic resemblance, and plot overlap.  In fact, the critic Joe Leydon once gave a pretty accurate one sentence summary that helps explain this film.  In his book, Movies You Must See, Leydon describes this story as "Taxi Driver: The Comedy".  It is just possible to argue that this is the necessary phrase that helps put Scorsese's picture in its proper perspective.  In all of its major plot beats, King of Comedy can be described as a mirror of the scarifying downward spiral of Travis Bickle, the director's premiere Lonely Man.  This figure appears to be something of a modern archetype that the filmmaker has returned to time and again in his movies.  Sometimes he's a social outcast like Travis.

At other times, he's a down on his luck nobody with little in the way of future prospects like Henry Hill, Jordan Bellfort, or Amsterdam Vallon.  At other times, they are individuals who have turned their own alienation to (whatever they regard, at least) as their own advantage.  These can be seen in the director's master criminals, such as Frank Costello, the Goodfellas, Bill the Butcher, or the aforementioned Hill and Bellfort.  The key thing that unites all of these disparate groups is what has to be described as a shared sense of fundamental alienation.  There's this disconnect between these protagonists and the world around them.  It is this personal, inner schism that often winds up as the unspoken driving force for the majority of their actions in all of the director's films.  The story of Rupert Pupkin is no different, by any means.  In fact, if we take Leydon's observation and choose to develop it further, it might be possible to claim that with this movie De Niro and Scorsese are taking stock of their career up to now.

You could theorize that this film was made at a point where both the actor and the director were starting to grow maybe a little reflective on their respective lives up to now, and where their creative choices had taken them.  It's something that may account for another reason why the film was an initial disappointment on its first release.  A better way to say it is that this movie is more careful, observing, and analytical compared to the sometimes surrealistic dreamscape that is Taxi Driver.  That film is nothing less than a Stygian journey through one man's Dark Night of the Soul, and the cinematography reflects that in the way it can sometimes warp and distort the natural urban landscape of New York.  It tries to convey the sense of a fundamentally warped perspective, establishing the idea of what its like to look at the concrete jungle through the eyes of a semi-hallucinatory madman.  It was a deliberate choice on the part of the director, and the result is that Scorsese is able to transform Travis's journeys through the streets into something akin to exploring the avenues of hell itself; New York City as a waste land.

The King of Comedy therefore might have had little choice expect to come off as something of a shock even to the filmmaker's most devoted fans at the time.  Because while it can be argued that the basic story is the same, the technique has been switched around.  Rather than the swiftly flowing, cocaine cinematography of De Niro's breakout performance, the camera work on King is more controlled, less hectic, and more or less best described as professional static in its composition.  It never rushes anything with Rupert's story, even while the narrative itself keeps moving at a swift and steady pace.  

Indeed, there are times when it almost looks as if you are watching a TV movie of the week.  I think this is where the director's reputation might have wound up an unintentional handicap against him, at first, anyway.  Scorsese's reputation at the time of the film's release was as this wild, anarchic street poet.  He was someone who would could use the camera to plumb the dark heart of the American psyche, and I wouldn't be surprised if audiences and critics might have seen him as the Hunter S. Thompson of cinema.  King was the first time he showed he could use another language to tell his stories, and I think the real problem was audiences didn't quit expect or know what to make of it.

It seems to have been a case of the artist getting pigeon-holed by the curse of a popular reputation.  Everybody was expecting more Raging Bull and Taxi Driver from this guy, and here he turns around and delivers the exact same story as he's done before, expect now its a comedy.  I think there might have been too much cognitive dissonance in the audience of the time for Scorsese's efforts to have ever had as fair chance as he probably deserved.  In a way, though, that's probably also kind of telling.  Because it could be argued that the audience's initial reaction back in the 80s is something of a mirror for the themes this movie is trying to tackle.  I have said that Rupert should be seen as belonging to the long line of Lonely Men who populate the landscape of Scorsese's films.  From a storytelling perspective, there's not much difference between Pupkin and Travis.  The only change is that one of them is good at pretending to be extroverted and outgoing, while the other is more paranoid and withdrawn.  Each of them, however, is united in their lonely alienation from their own kind.

These are the plot elements that need to be paid attention to if the viewer is ever to make sense of a picture like The King of Comedy.  Part of the reason so many had trouble with this is that I don't think anyone was quite prepared for the kind of presentation, or vantage point that Scorsese presents in this feature.  Taxi Driver is best described as a story told through the eyes of madness.  King of Comedy is the same narrative told with a different perspective.  Travis's story keeps the audience locked inside an inner chamber of a lunatic's mind.  Here, the reader is given room to breath.  We're are witnessing madness at a remove, from the relative safety of our own sanity (assuming we have any).  This is the director allowing us a greater chance to reflect on the illness caused by the existential alienation shared by his characters, rather than allowing us to get swept away in the lurid excitement such stories might offer.  With someone like Travis, the danger is that it can be easy to get caught up in identifying with the main character's illness.  In this film, however, Scorsese is not going to let you off the hook.  If this film is self-reflective, then it represents the director bringing a major ethical concern to the fore.

This film displays a concern on Scorsese's part for the kind of film's he likes to tell, how he presents it to his audience, and especially a preoccupation with what kind of an influence is he giving to the viewer?  These are questions the director seems to be asking himself with this film, and the conclusion he comes to is that he owes it to people that he show there's nothing really admirable about the Travis's and Rupert's of the world.  These are dangerous men, Scorsese intimates, and you probably need to keep a cautious eye out for them.  What really jumps out at me in all this is how the director has almost expanded the scope of his concerns to include the world of show business itself.  In doing so, I almost want to say that he's helped put the themes of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull into a greater perspective.

Here comes the difficult part to talk about, because in a way, this is where the film hits home for me the most.  I've said just a moment ago that Rupert is best seen as one of Scorsese's Lonely Men, same as in the story of Travis Bickle.  I also said that guys like Rupert put me in mind of several toxic online personalities.  I think that here is where we reach the more disturbing implications of this uncomfortable comedy.  One of the frightening things to consider in both of De Niro's films is that the characters he plays can never be confined to the realm of the imagination.  This is a lesson recent history has been teaching us with increasing frequency lately.  There are the obvious suspects such as that weird, Viking guy, and a lot of the others that come along with him.  Such real life figures have their natural analogue in a character like Travis.  Rupert, however, presents a more interesting example, in that he's almost like a shake up of a familiar formula, or an all too common type of troubled personality.

Folks like Travis are (in the most ironic sense of the term) reasonably straightforward in their psychosis.  You don't have to spend much time around guys like him to know you're dealing with a few too many aces shy of a full deck of cards.  In other words, it doesn't take long to realize that while the lights might be on upstairs, you don't want to find out anything about the owner of the house, because you know its haunted by monsters.  The paradox is all this unsettling behavior makes the Travis's of the world relatively easy textbook cases to understand and avoid (as much as any of us ever can, anyway).  

When we turn to Rupert, however, the situation doesn't change so much as it gets interesting, and therefore more precarious.  A person like Travis tends to wear their psychosis on the sleeve.  Rupert is very much the same way, and yet they can sometimes be more tricky to spot.  It's not that the self-described Comedy King is less unhinged than Mr. "Are You Talkin' To Me".  It's just that Rupert is a lot better at hiding his mental illness than the troubled protagonist of the earlier film.  The scariest thing about Rupert Pupkin is that he can almost pass himself off as normal, and therefore move around with a greater degree of freedom, and a lot less scrutiny than some schmuck who carries a gun around.

To an outside observe, Rupert would come off as just this awkward nerd whose trying to compensate for a lot of personal lacking by putting on this big show of a persona.  He'll try to pass himself off as a Cool Cat whose always where it's at, in other words.  The trouble is that's also just a mask hiding a mind that's just as fundamentally messed up and disconnected from reality as someone who tries to assassinate a politician on the grounds that they're politics don't match up with yours.  A further difference is that Rupert is more adept than Travis at finding ways to make his psychosis work for him in the public sphere.  I know that must sound not just crazy, but downright indecent.  It won't surprise me to learn that some readers might feel as if I've just uttered some unknown blasphemy.  That I've crossed one of the unseen taboo lines of modern life.  All I can say in reply is that Pupkin isn't the only person out there who has been able to make a living off their mental illness.  Scorsese's film all resolves when Rupert gives fully in to his delusional mental state, and uses it to successfully first commit a crime that threatens to explode into violence, and then turns the tables so that he makes this work out for him.

I've heard fan theories about this film which say that the ending, where Rupert is released early from jail, pens a book about his experiences, and parlays it all into a successful showbiz career as a nightly talk show host in the vein of Jon Stewart, David Letterman, or Stephen Colbert, is meant to be seen a just a delusional fantasy on the part of the protagonist.  Some would have us believe, in other words, that the ending to the film all takes place in the main character's head as he's probably confined to a cell somewhere.  I can understand a lot of reasons why some might try to comfort themselves with such a notion.  The reason I can never believe this is because I've seen too many people like Rupert gain just the kind of fame which he is after in real life.  As I've mentioned before, in a world populated by people like Alex Jones, or online abusers like Justin Kjellberg and Doug Walker, to try and dismiss the resolution that Scorsese presents us with is to try and make a desperate escape from reality.  It's a dangerous strategy as far as addressing such problems goes, and it's also the reason I'll always have to accept the fact that what happens to Rupert just as the credits role is all too real because fact has caught up with fiction.  We live in an age where the media sometimes awards psychosis with accolades.

What makes its worse is that is possible to claim that you can draw a line between toxic media personalities and people like Travis Bickle who go on to commit seemingly random acts of violence.  Again, recent history has provided us with too many examples for comfort.  The news these days seems to be full of stories about someone who walks into a public place with a loaded gun, and then puts it to fatal use.  One of the corollaries to these events is that a lot of them will go on to claim that the reason they committed their atrocities is because of the "encouragement" they've received from the likes of Jones, or any other dangerous media influencer you'd care to name.  We've reached the point where life starts forcing us to be careful of the information we consume, and who is saying it.  I wish that wasn't the case.  It's like being stuck in a bad fairy tale.  However, one of the thing's Scorsese's film makes us aware of is how life has a way of forcing these ethical dilemmas on you, whether they were asked for, or not.  In many way's, his comedy has looked forward to a time when the link between a media influencer and the troubled consumer has become a sick type of commonplace.  In other words, Rupert is best scene as the guy who winds someone like Travis up, and then leads to him committing the kind of acts he's become infamous for.  It's the case of plot point in a simple movie taking on an increasingly prophetic note with time.  It's also the most dangerous type of warning you can imagine.

It's this theme of pop culture rewarding toxic, anti-social, even sociopathic and/or psychotic behavior that is the main engine driving Scorsese's film.  The entire story works as a scathing satire of something that is incredibly foul and rotten somewhere within the mindset of both the entertainment industry and its audience.  It is this aspect, in particular, which has given me the most pause I've had in watching a film for some time.  The way it tackled the subject matter more or less forced me to stop and think about a number of things.  Specifically, it got me to ponder a lot of questions relating to the health of both the arts and the audience.  A lot of it, for me, goes back to stuff I talked about in my review of Ready Player One, where I mused about a certain shallowness on the part of the art we're consuming at the moment, and how this could have the potential for a negative impact on the audience.  What Scorsese, De Niro, and Zimmerman have made me realize is just how much the advent of social media has led to almost a kind of normalization of the alienated psychoses that they document in their story.

We've entered and era where a window of opportunity has been left open for the dangerously detached individuals of the world, who can now create any platform they want, just so long as they can be noticed and attract as many eyes and clicks, ping-backs, links, and likes as possible.  Even though it seems that the vast majority of the audience is aware of, and maintains a healthy concern with watching out for the threats posed by a thought process like this, that still leaves a sizeable, indeed, maybe even an influential segment of faces in the crowded aisles that will flock to people like Rupert, whether they are called Alex Jones, Bill O'Reilly, or any other similar name you can think of.  There's a fundamental problem with Scorsese's Lonely Men.  It's almost as if their single purpose in life is to cause trouble for others.  What Zimmerman's comedy shows us is how this same strand of insanity can sometimes infect the world of arts and storytelling.  It fits in with what another filmmaker, James Adams, has said.  In his own reaction to the film, Adams notes that "Once you unearth the surface level (of the character at the heart of this story, sic), it's dangerous waters whenever you tap into something like that.  Because this is a dangerous mindset.  As much as I'm laughing, this is dangerous.  This level is intense (8:47-9:02)".

It is even possible that the director of this film might just agree with Adams' sentiment.  In a documentary on the making of the film, the people who worked on it offer some very important food for thought.  Sandra Bernhard, for instance, claims "Nothing has been as needy or desperate as the Rupert Pupkin character...I think Rupert's a passionate character, but his passion only runs for completely selfish reasons (2:36-2:58).  Scorsese, meanwhile, comes in with a particularly fascinating insight.  "Is Rupert more violent than Travis," he asks?  Then he comes to a very revealing conclusion, "Maybe".  I'd argue the validity of this statement rests on what I said above.  It helps if you see the toxic media personality of someone like Rupert (or Jones, or Brietbart, or Q-Anon) as the wind up, and then guys like Travis (or the Q-Anon Shaman, James Alefantis, and even John Hinckley Jr.) are the pitch, or more accurately, the extremely dangerous, and sometimes deadly payoff.  In making this film, it seems as if Scorsese and his collaborators were able to shine a light on a troubling aspect of American life.

It may sound crazy to hear this, after all that I've just tried to talk about, but all of that heavy themes and subject matter are precisely what make this not just a good film, but also (in an admittedly warped way) an inspiring one.  The caveat here is that The King of Comedy can be an inspiration provided you find the right frame of mind in which to view it.  If you read the film in the right way, then it is just possible to take in all the valuable lessons it has to teach.  I know I'm making the guy who directed Goodfellas sound like an old Sunday school teacher here, yet the truth is this is a story with a heavy ethical bent.  It's main character is meant as a very prescient cautionary tale.  His narrative is a textbook case of what exactly not to do if you want to have a viable career in the arts.  In giving us an example not to follow, Scorsese's film seems to be urging the audience to ask a number of corresponding questions.  What is art, anyway?  Why does it exist?  Why do people create it?  Why do some us of dedicate our lives to the making and telling of stories?  Why do some of us enjoy it enough to want to examine the stories we like in such greater detail, hence the existence of blogs like this?  Here I think Scorsese is smart enough to know this is the big question that artists, critics and audiences have to answer for themselves.

This is a film that is more content to ask questions as it is in presenting a moral dilemma that also is meant to wake up the makers and consumers of fiction to the shared ethical responsibilities that we both have to bear.  To that end, it seems like the director, the screenwriter and the former cab driver are all asking us to maybe just pause, every now and then, and ask ourselves what we expect from the art we consume, and what it says about our own desires, and whether all that tends for good, or bad.  It's a film that also acts as plea, of sorts.  The implication seems to be a thematic desire for us as artists, audiences, and critics to maybe not make too big a deal of all this.  Don't let it dominate your life, in other words. However, perhaps (Scorsese seems to hint) it might do us all a bit of good if every now and then we stop and ask ourselves where we're going with our opinions, what they mean, and where they might lead us if we're not too careful.  For all of these reasons, I'll have to give The King of Comedy my strongest recommendation.  It's the first, yet by no means the last time he'll appear on this website.  Martin Scorsese is one of the kings of cinema, and there will be a lot more to talk about from here.

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