Kill the American Dream: The King of Comedy Review

October 15, 2009

The King of Comedy

The world is still not ready for The King of Comedy. It bombed at the box office upon its 1983 release, and it remains the most overlooked, misunderstood and under-appreciated film in the collaborative filmography of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Perhaps the title is too confounding. The King of Comedy is not really a comic film; at least, not in any sense understood by traditional Hollywood conventions. That’s not to say that it isn’t funny. It’s a scathingly funny movie at times. But it’s also disconcerting, painful and ruthlessly honest. More than anything, it’s a condemnation. It’s a spit in the face of modern celebrity culture, of the soulless ghouls who inhabit that world, and the vacuous public multitude that seeks to worship and emulate them. Literally nobody is spared the lash in The King of Comedy. The dead-on characters who inhabit the film’s satirical landscape engage in spectacularly conceited behaviour. It’s a left hook to the jaw of everybody who fell for the cosy lie of the American Dream: that fame and fortune is available upon demand for anybody who wants it badly enough.

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Blood and Redemption: Mean Streets Review

October 1, 2009

Mean Streets larger

The screen is black. A voiceover intones: “You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.”A young man wakes from his bed with a start. It’s Harvey Keitel, future icon of screen cool, but in 1973 just a struggling thirty something actor getting dangerously close to being passed by. He gets up and examines his face in the mirror while we hear the sounds of the street coming through his bedroom window. He returns to bed. As he reclines, his head hits the pillow in slow motion. The big, echoing beat of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” – one of pop music’s most magnificent soul symphonies – kicks in as the credits roll, superimposed over a scratchy Super-8 home video reel of the characters we will soon become intimately familiar with. As the song hits its crescendo: Ronnie Spector’s impossibly plaintive chorus of “be my, be my baby” – the film’s title is unveiled in stark, typewritten letters. Mean Streets. That’s one hell of a way to launch a movie. And what a movie. The movie that launched the careers of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro – the most iconic director / actor combination in the history of American cinema – and practically defined the template for gritty realism in film for the decade to come.

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