Thursday, 24 November 2011

Films which teach you about yourself: The King of Comedy


Martin Scorsese is good at films. I have not seen all of his films - my brief flirtation with THE DIRECTOR as THE AUTEUR only lasted as long as I realised that films with massive, angry, genetically engineered, vengeful sharks are normally directed by a wide range of people - but I know he is good at films because I consider three of his films to be the most important films in my life.

Like many DISAFFECTED YOUNG MEN, I have found a lot of solace in these films, and a lot of understanding of myself. I am nothing if not a stereotype. However, whilst the majority of attention is focussed on the other two - Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) - I want to talk mainly about the third: 1983's The King of Comedy.

I think finding yourself through Taxi Driver and Raging Bull as a MAN, or even a MAN'S MAN, is far mor glamorous. But sadly The King of Comedy is far more me. This isn't necessarily such a bad thing: John Hinckley Jr. found himself through Taxi Driver's troubled protagonist Travis Bickle and ended up sending spunk and turds and wee to Jodie Foster and then shooting Ronald Reagan.

No, you have to be true to yourself, and in truth, I am Rupert Pupkin.

If you are not familiar with The King of Comedy (and I really, REALLY, must stress that you should see it, it is magnificent), it stars Robert Di Niro as a nobody, Rupert Pupkin. Pupkin, a talentless but dedicated autograph hunter and student of fame, is obsessed with American talk show host and comedian Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). He dreams and fantasises all day about he and Langford being friends and peers, about himself being the new king of comedy. In the end he concocts a kidnap plan in order to get himself some coast-to-coast airtime for his fabulously average stand-up act.

I don't want to relate to Rupert Pupkin. But I do. I see in him everything about me that I find squirmingly embarrassing and undesirable. Pupkin is a fantastist, incapable of seeing anything but the end goal, blind to the individual steps you need to take to get there. He is so dazzled by his own perceived brilliance that he's lost sight of his crushing mediocrity as well as losing sight of himself. I see me in everything Rupert Pupkin says, thinks and does, and it worries me every single time.

Well I see me right up until he takes the proactive - and ultimately successful - step of kidnapping his hero and holding him to ransom. I suppose the dangerous thing about the film is that it could be seen to teach such deluded fantasist nobodies such as myself that to follow one's maddest ideas is the solution. The fact that it does not, I think, is due to the strength and depth of Di Niro's performance. Di Niro makes Pupkin undeniably loveable but also bewildering, amusing, frustrating, annoying and pitiable. His loveability is shot through with a sure knowledge that it cannot be sustained. Pupkin is a charming, but hollow and undesirable, man.

In learning about myself from The King of Comedy, I decided I really have to also try and learn FROM The King of Comedy, too. Dedicate myself to Pupkin avoidance. I think the key lesson I try and take is to never forget yourself and your own limitations. Part of that is accepting that I will always be a daydreamer, whose brain runs away with him in elaborate wonderful ideal-world scenarios. But equally, a part of that is accepting those for daydreams being all they are. The kindness and patience shown by much of the supporting cast - constantly beset with maniac fans like Rupert Pupkin and Masha or the wild ego of Langford - is I think the true aspirational element to this film and the one I try and take away.

I just hope that I remain able to see, and understand with such brilliant clarity, both sides of that coin in the same way that Scorsese and Di Niro do. The King of Comedy is, I think, my favourite film of all time. It's not the easiest film to watch and consequently, nor is it the one I see most often. But it's always the one which leaves me filled with the most wonder. I love it. And coupled with Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, it's more than sufficient to forgive Robert Di Niro ANY number of Meet the Fockers-style family comedy film catastrophes (although personally I think he was magnificent in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle).

Tomorrow: Lolly from Panda and Crumpet on films which take her to another time and place.

2 comments:

5olly said...

i've not seen any of those.

Chopper said...

I've not seen King Of Comedy but I vividly remember Barry Norman reviewing it on Film 83. It's my only point of reference for the film so whenever I read of see something related to that film my internal Rolodex comes back with "Barry Norman reviewed this and said it was very good". Somehow it has remained in this state ever since. A film I am aware is probably quite good but one that I've not felt the urge to seek out. I think you've just nudged it into my loading bay. I shall report back soon!

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