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Critics reviews
The King of Comedy
Martin Scorsese United States, 1982
Scorsese infuses this tale with the passionate energy of New York street life and an outsider’s wonder at the powerful workings of show business and studio craft. A lingering closeup on a photo of Langford (i.e., of Lewis) as a preternaturally wise youth evokes his force of character and touch of genius, which underlies it all.
June 24, 2016
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Lewis’ performance is one of masterful and astringent stillness, as precisely controlled as the seemingly spontaneous pratfalls and vocal tics that made his reputation, his impassive glare a perpetual rebuke to De Niro’s agitation. This ouroboros of narcissism and neurosis is probably the most austere work of Scorsese’s career; few other films are invested so deeply with Sartre’s admonition, "hell is other people.
June 22, 2016
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The film brilliantly keeps viewers unmoored, the result of its consistently off-kilter tone. Though filled with sight gags and corny jokes, the movie is also darkened by genuine menace, as Rupert, aided by fellow unhinged Jerry Langford superfan Masha (Sandra Bernhard), becomes ever more desperate to get the icon’s attention. But the most generative tension in the film emerges from the clash of performance styles…
June 21, 2016
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Here is Scorsese, speaking in his Personal Journey . . . Through American Movies about the central metaphor of Sam Fuller’s 1963 loony-bin thriller Shock Corridor: “In Fuller’s vision, America had become an insane asylum.” Similarly, the crazy world of showbiz in The King of Comedy may be read as a microcosmic reflection of a larger madness, one reason the movie still gets under your skin, why this sick joke weathers so many retellings.
October 01, 2014
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Among Scorsese’s most challenging features. Even with a dose of straight comedy, particularly early on, the film’s key themes and the increasing desperation of its primary characters are far from simply comical. Instead,The King of Comedy ends up as a cultural commentary wrapped in a darkly humorous veil, a disturbing work of discomfort, and an extraordinary motion picture.
April 11, 2014
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…The look on Jerry’s face (which is the very last time we see him): the look of a man who realizes that he’s just been beaten, that he’s suddenly much closer to the end than the beginning, that in due time he will cease to have a place in the new order of things. We are now living in that new order, confirming that KING OF COMEDY is one of the most prescient satires of the 20th century.
November 22, 2013
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The King Of Comedy marked the fifth collaboration between Martin Scorsese and De Niro, and was arguably the most unconventional film either of them had yet made at that time. Both divested themselves of their most familiar tools… Scorsese, renowned for his aggressively mobile camera, shot The King Of Comedy using the flat, locked-down impersonality of the era’s TV programming.
August 22, 2013
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I was slow to appreciate this masterpiece, which I now regard as Martin Scorsese’s best feature, and I credit Wim Wenders for convincing me that there was far more going on in this movie than I was initially prepared to see. Perhaps the key to this creepy fable about the American obsession with celebrity and media comes in the climactic comic monologue of Rupert Pupkin…
September 01, 2009
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Since Raging Bull, Scorsese has seen less critical attention, despite the fact that the quality of his work remains quite high. For example, The King of Comedy (1983), one of the American cinema’s most devastating satires, remains, next to his revisionist musical New York, New York (1977), his most underrated film.
May 21, 2002
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Rupert Pupkin dreams of passing through the image: that’s where he belongs. And, just like in E.T., he wants to go back home. But in reality there isn’t anything on the other side. And this nothingness… is literally hell. And for this The King of Comedy, without a doubt Scorsese’s most audacious work, is a horror film. Founded on a nightmare logic, it reminds the viewer of an adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial that Welles directed. This makes us regret the fate of K.: at least he had a future.
May 01, 1983
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The shift in archetypes from Catholic to Jewish, plus the visual shift from extravagant expressionism to flat, overlit TV images, radically alters the point of view; you feel for the first time that Scorsese is trying to distance himself from his characters—that he finds them grotesque. The uncenteredness of the film is irritating, though it’s irritating in an ambitious, risk-taking way. You’d better see for yourself.
February 16, 1983
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Given that Marilyn Beck’s account of the casting of Jerry Lewis as Jerry Langford is essentially correct, and that Lewis is, in effect, “acting” Johnny Carson, there is a very satisfying reversal of type involved here, and the consequences of this reversal verge on myth-making.
February 15, 1983
In The Fall of Public Man, Richard Sennet suggests, “It is the complete repression of audience response by the electronic media” that produces “a magnified interest in persons or personalities who are not similarly denied.” King of Comedy takes the rage and the wounded narcissism implicit in such denial as a fulcrum for an oedipal drama. Splitting its sympathy between the “have” Langford and the “have-not” Pupkin, the film offers a both-sides-now dialectic of American celebrity.
February 15, 1983