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Episode 94: THE KING OF COMEDY

  

112 members have voted

  1. 1. Is KING OF COMEDY Canon?

    • Yes!
      93
    • YOU SHOULD GET CANCER
      19


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Jerry Lewis! Sandra Bernhard! Robert DeNiro! An underappreciated Martin Scorsese movie comes up for Canonization. Is KING OF COMEDY a dark foretelling of our current culture or a minor work? It's up to you!

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I'm a big Scorsese stan and would vote yes for any of his films, but it's crazy to me how this one gets so overlooked

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Belongs in the canon simply because it's a really great movie. Sure, okay, it's not his most iconic work, but by the same token, the literary canon would lose Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, or Hemingway's In Our Time. The same way that canon would lose a lot by not having Melville's Redburn or Pierre, even if they're thematically very linked to Moby-Dick, we'd lose a lot here by not having one of Scorsese's very best and most distinct.

 

There's so much to dig into here, on the script, on the set, and on the screen. It's one of those cases where because nobody's done the work to make the analysis of this movie super easy to digest (maybe this podcast will help it get there!) there might be a concern that it's not as thematically rich as something like Taxi Driver, but that's bupkes. Escorting The King of Comedy into the canon (maybe by inducting it into The Canon) will reveal this movie's greatness, especially as film professors get sick of reading the umpteenth undergrad essay comparing Taxi Driver to Drive.

 

(I also think the movie that most echoes it in our current film scene, Nightcrawler, would still be a great canon choice, partly because it divorces Lou Bloom's work from his personality, and partly because Gyllenhaal's youth by comparison heightens the tension that some day he might be running it all. These are distinct movies for sure, and I hope people don't get reductive in the thread about that fact!)

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YES

 

the prescience of "You should get cancer!" in relation to famous people's @ replies on twitter is perfect.

 

the idolization of a talk show host comedian in the era of Johnny, encapsulating what the comedy nerd of the day was obsessed with.

 

for Scorsese making a formally restrained movie without even one huge tracking shot that lasts more than 180 seconds

 

for Scorsese literally SHOWING US the head of Pupkin rather than explaining through action

 

i really loved this movie and it leapfrogged over Raging Bull, After Hours, Wolf of Wall Street etc to pop into my #4 slot for Scorsese films.

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I can't vote because I haven't seen the movie. Just wanted you guys to know that I loved this episode, and I love the show. I look forward to it every week. I really enjoy spending that hour with the two of you. Amy, I'm definitely going to check out that book. Devin, I also laughed out loud at "Hey Marty! Kundun! I liked it!" Keep it up, guys.

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I have loved this film for thirty years, but that's not why I am voting yes (I also love Stand By Me and Labyrinth but voted no on them) - one reason I am voting yes is because I think this is one of those films that even though it's cultural impact isn't felt in an obvious, lets all wear the t-shirt, make a meme, and put gifs of it on tumbler kind of way, it is a film that weaves its influence on the culture in a different manner, by influencing writers and directors, most notably Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant whose comedy of discomfort "The Office" (and its American spinoff) undoubtably bears the imprint of this film.

 

Devin and Amy touched upon the obvious subtext after the John Lennon assassination, and the attempt on Reagan's life, and I am hard-pressed to find a film other than "La Dolce Vita" that captures our modern culture's obsession with celebrity as well as this film does, but it came along at a time when audiences were probably exhausted by some of the excesses and the darkness of American auteur films of the seventies - this is the era of Ronald Reagan, after all.

 

And the film was probably affected negatively by the success and the expectations created by another film, which came out the year before, and that is Tootsie, another film about an aspiring performer in New York who is forced to take desperate measures. The King of Comedy is a bizarro Tootsie - the performers at the center of both stories both feel they are being over-looked, and in the case of Tootsie it just happens that he is extremely talented. The Sandra Bernhard character is the mirror image of the Teri Garr character - a woman who shares his obsession and who he pushes aside, and Jerry Lewis grounds the film in reality in the same way Sydney Pollack provides the anchor for Tootsie as the only characters who really understand the world these narratives exist in. And in the end, both characters' transgressive actions gain them a certain measure of fame. But audiences and critics wanted the Tootsie version and were turned-off by the King of Comedy when it didn't deliver the same kind of experience.

 

The film has always worked for me, at the most basic level, because as pathetic and extreme as Rupert seems, he is portrayed with great empathy and understanding by De Niro, and Scorsese's less kinetic, more patient style works to develop the character. As far as the ending goes, whether it is real or not - the film's previous fantasy sequences have very specific cues. The bloody handkerchief, and that vary symmetrical head-on shot of Rupert waiting in the offices. The ending doesn't have that. It has Rupert being driven away why a wise-cracking detective, in a wide-shot. I think it's real because there was never any ambiguity about what is real and what isn't.

 

An aspect of the film that I find extraordinary is the costume design by Richard Bruno, especially when it comes to dressing the guys. The jacket that Rupert wears on the air is inspired - and probably terrible for television, with its incredibly busy pattern - but you can tell that Rupert has been saving this for a special occasion.

 

Okay, that was rambling. But I voted yes. I don't think this is a film that surrenders all its treasures on a first viewing.

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Nope. At no point did either host give a justification for this being in the canon. This just falls into the general list of "movies we like." Everybody has movies they like. That's nice and it's fun to share those with others. But WHAT makes this a canon film? I don't have anything in particular against the movie. I just can't find any reason to elevate it into a position of prominence above other films.

 

HA! I started writing this right before the very end with their Amy and Devin's votes and I'm listening as they give their opinions. She just said the same thing. I more often side with Devin's viewpoints, but this time Amy and I are echoing each other.

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This is my favorite Scorsese film. I think it's more relevant now than it was when it was released. The relationship between fandom and obsession and danger is even more interesting in the age of gamergate and bat-fans.

 

These performances are fucking phenomenal. I love Jerry Lewis' performance, even though he really doesn't seem like he wants to be there. He exudes contempt and disgust, but I can't tell if it's his real-life apathy, or just a good performance? Anyways, he's great, De Niro is masterful, Sandra Bernhard has a fantastically funny, yet truly scary performance. It's so great.

 

ALSO, how Scorsese manages to put suspense into this weird dark comedy is so great. The scene of a paranoid Jerry Langford running down the street is one that creates an immense amount of anxiety for me. Absolutely lovely.

 

I'm all over the place, but this movie is so good. I wish Scorsese would do more comedy!

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(I also think the movie that most echoes it in our current film scene, Nightcrawler, would still be a great canon choice, partly because it divorces Lou Bloom's work from his personality, and partly because Gyllenhaal's youth by comparison heightens the tension that some day he might be running it all. These are distinct movies for sure, and I hope people don't get reductive in the thread about that fact!)

That was my thing. This is the film that makes Nightcrawler happen. Louis Bloom is Rupert Pupkin's son, and Rene Russo's character is Cathy Long grown up, punished with years of Pupkins and Blooms.

 

Also, Schrader has confirmed the end of Taxi Driver as a dream. Maybe it isn't to Scorsese--though, I'm pretty sure he has said it is as well. But I think that makes sense as a dream.

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Nope. At no point did either host give a justification for this being in the canon. This just falls into the general list of "movies we like." Everybody has movies they like. That's nice and it's fun to share those with others. But WHAT makes this a canon film? I don't have anything in particular against the movie. I just can't find any reason to elevate it into a position of prominence above other films.

 

HA! I started writing this right before the very end with their Amy and Devin's votes and I'm listening as they give their opinions. She just said the same thing. I more often side with Devin's viewpoints, but this time Amy and I are echoing each other.

 

You wrote your post saying we didn't give our justifications before you listened to the episode?

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Easy yes

 

Wanted to add that as the episode was winding down, my ears immediately perked up when Devin mentioned "After Hours." Never expected that movie to get it's own episode but now I am immediately energized to campaign for it to get an episode of it's own. Don't expect it to get voted in but would be a worthwhile discussion.

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ALSO, Marty's cameo "you're the director here", reminded me of my favorite joke from a movie considered a few weeks ago -- "hey, I work for Mel Brooks!"

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Nope. At no point did either host give a justification for this being in the canon. This just falls into the general list of "movies we like." Everybody has movies they like. That's nice and it's fun to share those with others. But WHAT makes this a canon film? I don't have anything in particular against the movie. I just can't find any reason to elevate it into a position of prominence above other films.

 

HA! I started writing this right before the very end with their Amy and Devin's votes and I'm listening as they give their opinions. She just said the same thing. I more often side with Devin's viewpoints, but this time Amy and I are echoing each other.

 

 

I liked Devin's idea that the film is Canon-worthy because it was prescient about what popular culture would be like in the future. That solidifies my Yes vote.

 

But I also think sometimes a film can be Canon-worthy if it's just GREAT enough that it has to be seen. The King of Comedy is one of those for me.

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You wrote your post saying we didn't give our justifications before you listened to the episode?

 

Obviously not. I just started writing at the very end right before you gave your final YES and NO votes.

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I only discovered Blow Out because of this podcast and I feel exactly the same about The King of Comedy. They're just great films that belong in the canon despite how under the radar they are.

 

Actually those are my favorite kind of canon movies. It's like discovering a classic from an alternate universe.

 

I will say I disagree with Amy about the dinner scene. I think that's one of the best parts of the movie. It's just broad enough that it's funny, but not from a totally different reality like the hilarious fantasy sequences. It could have gone off the rails, but I think they nailed it, and it actually makes me sad Bernhard didn't have a bigger career.

 

I was taken on this journey of liking Rupert, then pitying him, then hating his guts, and then actually rooting for him when he got on the air, and then actually being kind of proud of him when his monologue wasn't half bad. It wasn't hilarious, but it was halfway decent 1982 stand-up. Great movie. Yes.

 

(Oh I liked Jerry Lewis in this too even though I can never shake the feeling that he's a huge scumbag. It works for this movie.)

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I don't have the "Who lit all those candles?" problem. Masha lit them, slowly, and Jerry had to sit and watch the entire process.

 

(Anyway, easy yes, very much agree with the above opinion drawing a straight line between this and Nightcrawler)

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Saw this for the first time tonight. I felt the film was really slow until when Rupert visits Jerry at his golf house. (I wasn't even sure whether this scene was a dream or not from the beginning of it, which really confused me - this coming from a guy whose favorite film is Eternal Sunshine.)

 

Right after is when they kidnap Jerry and the film really takes off. I honestly wasn't too engrossed with it until then. This is when I leaned in and realt started enjoying the film. I enjoyed the contrast between Rupert and Masha here in their fandom/stalker types. I did find the dinner scene pretty lacking and ending oddly - I mean, Masha was also the one who earlier wouldn't trust Jerry but now is cool to untie him? I loved how Jerry played the scene though, sitting there either not looking at her or keeping her eyes closed. It makes you think what you'd do in that circumstance.

 

I think this role was perfect for DeNiro and wish he had done more like it. (If he has, send them my way.) I really enjoyed it and it's in my top few favorite Scorcese films (my favorite might actually be The Wolf), but I'm just not sold on it being canonical. A great film? Yes. Prescient? Definitely (although John Lennon's death had already happened). Influential? Not too sure on that one. I wouldn't cry foul if it got inducted since I loved it, but I'd more likely put it in the Cornucopia of Quality or a list of great hidden gem films than The Canon proper. I'll let it meddle in my mind and read more comments before voting though.

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Very very soft no. Very good movie, lots of fun, good performances, but I don't think it comes anywhere near a classic. After Hours, on the other hand, I would vote in to the Canon in a second.

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Soft No for me. I think it's a good film, but neither host really swayed me on why it's Canon worthy. I also didn't feel it was historically significant although it does show a bit of prescience.

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Was on the fence until hearing the episode, but Amy and Devin's discussion pushed me into the "yes" camp.

Amazing performances, confident (somewhat invisible) film-making, and prescient commentary about pop culture. Loved it (while still making my skin crawl).

 

BTW, I like the tangents and digressions (e.g. money in gum story). In a 90 minute episode, it can help break keep the pacing of the episode from getting stale.

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