Having recently seen Joker I’ve heard a lot about the films that may have influenced it. So I’ve made an effort to watch some of them. Turns out that if I’d seen The King of Comedy first, I’d have been pointing at the cinema screen for all kinds of references.
One thing this film makes very clear is that I haven’t seen enough De Niro. It’s been long enough since seeing Heat and Ronin that I barely remember them past knowing ‘they were good’. I know that doesn’t dig too far into his filmography but hopefully I can go back to them soon. So purely on a ‘I need to see more De Niro’ front, the film is a success. It’s a great change from what I’ve usually seen (does some bad shrugging and pointing impressions). De Niro’s character, Rupert Pupkin, is a thought-provoking character; his approach to things, and the reaction he gets, is amazingly prophetic when it comes to people wanting to be known. Even if it’s for the wrong reasons. For a large part of the film it’s not even clear if he has any talent.
“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime”Rupert Pupkin
The story touches on a variety of topics, from mental illness, to obsession, to the loneliness of celebrity. Jerry Lewis is fantastic as the host Rupert aspires to be on first names terms with. Sure, he’s got it all. But does he get any peace? Can he live his own life? His admirers won’t or can’t see this, and don’t understand the part they’re playing in it.
Sandra Bernhard gets a chance to go all out in her role as a fellow ‘admirer’ of Jerry. De Niro is essentially her foil, as he goes about things in a much calmer way, even if it’s still very troubling. Are either of them actually dangerous? It’s hard to say. They might both come across as ridiculous, but there’s a menace under the surface.
Thinking back over the film, I wonder how much is actually real. Scorsese has left that one up to us as the viewer to decide.
Regardless of the way in which I came to see it, The King of Comedy feels like a sizeable chunk of my film history being filled in. I don’t usually recommend films as such, but this is well worth your time.