Sunday, 15 July 2018

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: THE KING OF COMEDY



76. “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.”



15/07/2018




1. The End

Whenever “The King of Comedy” comes to mind, the ending plays first. There is no reason for finding it so uplifting, but when you have been made to identify with a complete and utter fantasist, and when the point of film is to suspend disbelief, it becomes the best possible ending.

In fact, the whole story may be a daydream. With aspiring stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) having already imagined an entire professional and personal friendship with TV chat show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), the inevitable rejection from someone he never met leads to Pupkin hatching a plot to get his big break: kidnap Langford, with his demand to have a slot to do his act, and Langford will only be released once it is broadcast.

As Pupkin says in his act, “it is better to be king for a night than a schumck for a lifetime,” but the autobiographical jokes of a neglected childhood rely precisely on his being that schmuck. Pupkin’s release from prison, his book deal, and his own TV special, could also be a part of that fantasy, but even meeting Jerry Langford, who Pupkin said was more human than other humans, could be another part of that fantasy.





2.       The Beginning


Having looked into the history of this film, it became pretty clear that, whatever the circumstances, the script for “The King of Comedy” was a script destined to be made into a film, at some point, by someone. It is not an obvious choice for Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro following “Raging Bull,” but circumstance put them all together.

As much as “Raging Bull” is now characterised as the cinematic primal scream of Martin Scorsese, who would have otherwise retreated to documentary, he still intended to make peace with himself and direct “The Last Temptation of Christ.” However, the two factors that delayed this until 1987 were Paramount Pictures pulling out, and De Niro wanting his next role to be comedic, particularly in a script for which he bought the rights. Michael Cimino, director of “The Deer Hunter,” could have done the same for De Niro with “The King of Comedy,” but having pulled out due to the spiralling production of “Heaven’s Gate,” Scorsese entered the frame... except he was recovering from pneumonia, so he could only direct for three hours at a time, resulting in a twenty-week shoot. This is before you get to De Niro meeting with one of his own stalkers to get inspiration - it turned out they just wanted to meet and have dinner with him.

Why do I mention all of this? For a film with a surreal, farcical plot, the production appears to be about as convoluted as it could be. If it had not been, Scorsese would not have made the film at all, let alone “After Hours” or “The Color or Money,” and you would have had De Niro playing Jesus instead of Willem Dafoe.

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