THE KING OF COMEDY (Martin Scorsese, 1982)
209 West Houston St.
Jerry Lewis is back in the news right now with the surprise online appearance of clips from his notorious unreleased 1972 film The Day the Clown Cried, a Holocaust picture believed to be so disastrous that he has vowed it will never see the light of day. But from June 24 to 30 at Film Forum, you can revisit one of the former MDA telethon host’s best performances, in Martin Scorsese’s vastly underrated and underappreciated 1982 masterpiece, The King of Comedy. Lewis stars as Jerry Langford, the host of a massively popular late-night television show. (The part was initially offered to Johnny Carson, who turned it down.) Lewis is one cool, calm customer as the smooth, elegant Langford, a far cry from his familiar caricatures in such films as The Bellboy, The Patsy, and The Nutty Professor. The most fascinating role in the film, however, is his stalker, wannabe-comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), who is desperate to get on Jerry’s show and become part of his inner circle, as well as Masha (Sandra Bernhard), who is in love with Jerry and thinks they are destined to be together. When not hanging around Jerry’s office, harassing Langford’s right-hand associate, Cathy Long (Shelley Hack), and the receptionist (Margo Winkler), Pupkin is in the basement of his home, pretending to be a guest on the show, yakking it up with cardboard cutouts of Langford and Liza Minnelli while his mother (voiced by Scorsese’s real mom, Catherine) yells at him to do something with his life. Pupkin is also trying to impress a former high school classmate, Rita (Diahnne Abbott, who was married to De Niro at the time), a bartender who barely remembers him. When things don’t go quite as planned, Rupert and Masha try to pull off a crazy scheme to get what they feel is their destiny.
Written by film critic, activist, and author Paul D. Zimmerman, The King of Comedy has held up remarkably well over the years, displaying a thrilling prescience about the state of celebrity obsession and the need to be on television well before the internet and reality shows changed the dynamic between star and fan. De Niro fully embodies the creepy, awkward, splendidly dressed Pupkin, who is essentially the illegitimate love child of Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta as seen through the lens of Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. And Bernhard, in her first major film role, is a revelation as Masha, exhibiting an expert physicality worthy of the best cinematic comedians, with just the right amount of dark madness. Just as Pupkin goes back and forth between fantasy and reality, Scorsese keeps viewers on edge, not always differentiating between fiction and nonfiction; he has numerous familiar faces play versions of themselves, including radio and television announcer Ed Herlihy and bandleader Les Brown, Tony Randall as a guest host, longtime Carson producer Fred de Cordova as Bert Thomas, producer of The Jerry Langford Show, Dr. Joyce Brothers as one of Randall’s guests, and Emmy-winning producer Edgar Scherick as a network executive. Cinematographer Fred Schuler beautifully captures the hustle of early 1980s New York City, echoing what’s going on inside Pupkin’s deranged mind, while music adviser Robbie Robertson, a friend of Scorsese’s who was in the great Band documentary The Last Waltz, puts together a fab soundtrack that ranges from Ray Charles’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” and the Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang” to Robertson’s own “Between Trains” and Van Morrison’s gorgeous closing credits song, “Wonderful Remark.” Scorsese fills the film with plenty of little treats and sweet touches. Look for the Clash’s Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, and Paul Simonon as the street punks, along with Ellen Foley, Don Letts, Kosmo Vinyl, and Pearl Harbour. In the scene in which Pupkin takes Rita to dinner, a man in the back of the restaurant is curiously mimicking Pupkin’s gesticulations. And Scorsese makes an inside-joke cameo when Randall, preparing to host The Jerry Langford Show, questions something, shrugs, and says to Scorsese, “You’re the director.” The 2013 digital restoration of The King of Comedy is playing at Film Forum June 24-30; the 7:30 show on June 24 will be introduced by Gilbert Gottfried and Frank Santopadre, on June 25 by Aparna Nancherla, and on June 29 by Mario Cantone.
Who: Matthew Aughenbaugh, Michael Ruby, Graham Fawcett
What: Immersive theater piece
Where: The Old Stone House, Washington Park & JJ Byrne Playground, between Fourth & Fifth Aves. and Third & Fourth Sts., Park Slope, 718-768-3195
When: Friday, June 24, $15-$20, 8:00
Why: On June 24, Matthew Aughenbaugh will perform his one-man show, Song of Myself: The Words of Walt Whitman, at the Old Stone House in Park Slope, in the borough where the mighty poet was raised. “Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me! / On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose, / And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose,” Whitman wrote in 1856’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Aughenbaugh, a Shakespearean actor who has also done musical theater, noted in a statement, “I was inspired to create a theater piece using only original text as a way to share my passion for our greatest American poet.” The immersive show, presented by London’s Upper Wimpole Street Literary Salon, will be followed by a Q&A with Aughenbaugh and Brooklyn poet Michael Ruby, moderated by British broadcaster, teacher, and translator Graham Fawcett. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door and come with wine and refreshments.
Penny Lane’s wonderfully titled, inventively told “Nuts!” tells the wacky true tale of Dr. John R. Brinkley, a pivotal twentieth-century figure who was part P. T. Barnum, part Donald Trump, a controversial doctor or a quack, a radio pioneer or a snake-oil charlatan, depending on one’s opinion. He became rich and famous by surgically implanting goat glands into men’s testicles, claiming it increased virility, but his story is about much more than that. “This is a film about John Romulus Brinkley, a doctor, amongst other things, a man who succeeded against terrible odds and powerful opposition, a man who changed the world,” narrator Gene Tognacci explains early on. Lane, who previously profiled another intriguing individual in her debut feature-length documentary, 2013’s Our Nixon, this time follows the often outrageous exploits of Brinkley, using text from Clement Wood’s 1934 book, The Life of a Man: A Biography of John R. Brinkley, home movies and photographs, newspaper and magazine articles, and actual radio broadcasts. She also has seven different animators re-create scenes from Brinkley’s life and career, and each artist or team (Drew Christie & Dane Herforth, Julia Veldman C, Michael Pisano, Krystal Downs, Ace & Son Moving Picture Co., Rose Stark, and Hazel Lee Santino & Downs) employs a unique style while maintaining the film’s overall potent sense of humor. Producer-director Lane, who cleverly edited the film with writer Thom Stylinski, initially casts Brinkley as a sympathetic character just trying to get his own piece of the American dream for him and his family in the tiny town of Milford, Kansas, but as Dr. Morris Fishbein, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, gets ever closer in his obsessive quest to discredit Brinkley, everything the goat-gland doctor has built threatens to unravel. But Lane’s genius is yet to come, as she begins to unravel our assumptions and the very process of biography and history itself as the film proceeds to its inevitable conclusion.
It’s hard to believe that “Nuts!” is true, but that’s all part of the fun. Lane just lays it out there for us to see, and you’ll be rooting for Brinkley as he grows his empire, just as you’ll be booing Fishbein for desperately trying to bring him down. Brinkley was a kind of mad genius, understanding how to get ahead in business by giving the people what they want via early infomercials, realizing the vast power of radio, and flouting the rules whenever he could — and then attempting to change them. Lane limits the talking heads to very occasional comments from historian and former Kansas councilman James Reardon, social and cultural historian Dr. Megan Seaholm, Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves coauthor Gene Fowler, and Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam author Pope Brock. “Nuts!” is all the more comic for its reality, and Lane has succeeded wildly in transferring that notion to the way she has made the film, literally revealing the hands of the artist as the pages of Wood’s sycophantic book are turned; by the end, viewers will be questioning the documentary form itself just as they’re questioning Brinkley’s validity. In fact, Lane is readying a public online database “for audiences to consider the epistemological and ethical issues at the heart of the nonfiction storytelling process.” “Nuts!” opens at Film Forum on June 22, with Lane participating in Q&As following the 8:00 shows on opening night and June 24 and after the 6:10 show on June 25.
Who: Nicolas Winding Refn
What: Film Society Free Talks
Where: Film Society of Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater, 144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave., 212-875-5232
When: Thursday, June 23, free, 7:00
Why: Danish writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn, who has made such films as Bronson, Valhalla Rising, the Pusher trilogy, and the upcoming psychological thriller The Neon Demon, starring Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, and Alessandro Nivola, will be at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on June 23 to give a free talk about his career, the day before The Neon Demon opens in theaters. Refn, who was partly raised in New York City, was named Best Director at Cannes in 2011 for Drive, and his Pusher trilogy can be seen in its entirety on June 20 as part of the IFC Center series “Cold Cases: The Department Q Trilogy and the New Nordic Noir.”
New York City–based French choreographer Pascal Rioult brings his RIOULT Dance NY troupe to the Joyce this week for two programs of favorites and premieres. The decidedly antiwar Program A, “Women on the Edge . . . Unsung Heroines of the Trojan War,” consists of 2013’s Iphigenia, based on Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis and set to music by Michael Torke; 2011’s On Distant Shores, a “Redemption Fantasy” about Helen of Troy, with music by Aaron Jay Kernis; and the world premiere of Cassandra's Curse, inspired by Euripides’ The Trojan Women, with a commissioned score by Richard Danielpour that will be performed live by the Uptown Philharmonic, conducted by Kyle Ritenauer. The June 21, 23, and 25 shows will be narrated by Oscar- and Tony-nominated actress Kathleen Turner. (The June 23 show will also be followed by a Curtain Chat with members of the company.) Program B is highlighted by the New York City premiere of 2015’s Polymorphous, set to J. S. Bach’s “The Well Tempered Clavier,” and also includes 2014’s Dream Suite, set to Peter Iliych Tchaikovsky’s “Orchestral Suite No. 2 in C Major” and with a design inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall; 2002’s Bolero, set to the Ravel classic; and a selection of duets from various other pieces from throughout Rioult’s two-decades-plus career.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUMS
Multiple downtown locations
Tuesday, June 21, free, 4:00 – 8:00
Last Tuesday, the Museum Mile Festival offered free admission to seven institutions along Fifth Ave. between 82nd and 105th Sts. On the following Tuesday, June 18, fifteen downtown organizations will open their doors for free. As part of the River to River Festival, which includes experimental dance, theater, music, and more through June 26, people are invited inside to see exhibitions and special programs as well as join walking tours. In addition, there will be live music along the way in conjunction with the tenth annual Make Music New York. The participating organizations (with current exhibitions) are the African Burial Ground, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, Federal Hall, Fraunces Tavern Museum (“Dunsmore: Illustrating the American Revolutionary War”), the Museum of American Finance (“Worth Its Weight: Gold from the Ground Up”), the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust (“Stitching History from the Holocaust,” “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited”), the National Archives at New York City, the National Museum of the American Indian (“Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains,” “Circle of Dance”), the National September 11 Memorial Museum, the NYC Municipal Archives, the 9/11 Tribute Center, Poets House (“The Poets’ Rebellion: Poetry, Memory, and the Easter Rising,” “Metamorphosis: The Collaboration of Poet Barbara Guest & Artist Fay Lansner”), the Skyscraper Museum (“Garden City | Mega City”), the South Street Seaport Museum, and Wall Street Walks.