Tag: martin scorsese

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A shot of Rupert Pupkin's closing monologue speech, as seen on a stack of televisions, in Martin Scorsese's "The King of Comedy"

Delusional Yet Determined: On Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” (1983)

What if success was not measured in quality but in popularity? Where achievement resided not within the honing of one’s craft but within fame itself? Where spending years in obscurity gets tossed aside in favor of shallow recognition and immediacy? Oh wait, if this isn’t the culture we live in, then what is it? Perhaps it is also the mindset of wannabe standup comic Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. Granted, Rupert really does believe he is great and ready for the big stage (we witness this via his many fantasies) but fame seems to be the thing he longs for more than anything else. He wants to be known and to ultimately prove his worth to those who believe he’d not amount to anything more than a ‘hill of beans.’ Add to this his brazen, belligerent manner and it’s no wonder he ultimately gets what he gets—and no, I don’t mean jail.

The King of Comedy has remained an overlooked work despite its 40-year run, yet this is not only one of his best films but one that has proved to be prophetic in terms of how this business we call show business operates. Fame, ratings, who you know—this is what matters, and Rupert realizes this. The film opens with late-night talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) escaping into a limo from a crowd of aggressive fans. Thinking he has privacy at last, Rupert pushes his way in. Already, they are on a forced first-name basis, as Rupert speaks to Jerry as though he’s always known him. ‘What is your name again?’ Jerry asks. […]

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A stylized shot of Robert DeNiro looking out of his taxi in Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver".

Mindful Loneliness: Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976)

There are few films that encapsulate loneliness as well as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Two others that come to mind are Woody Allen’s Another Woman (1988) and Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998). In the Allen film, a woman turning 50 comes to realize that she has pushed everyone away, and in the Malick film we witness how war isolates the spirit from the mind. And yet Taxi Driver is not only the portrait of a weathered man facing his own war, but one who attempts to connect and fails every time. Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) works at night and so his world is dark and violent. ‘All the animals come out at night,’ he says, as he looks on with contempt and disgust. Still, he longs to belong somewhere but does not know where that is.

For start, we do not know much of his past, other than he is an ex-Marine who was honorably discharged in 1973. As for education, ‘a little bit here, a little bit there, ya know,’ he says. We don’t know his parents or how he came to be other than his wish to escape his life via working long hours in a taxi. People enter his cab and then they depart as quickly as they came. There are no attachments. Then, when it is morning and his shift is done, he is forced to wipe the semen off the seats before he escapes to a porno theatre. […]

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A stylized shot of the child Dalai Lama in Martin Scorsese's "Kundun".

Buddhism In Art: On Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun” (1997)

Wondering whether any works of art profit from the richer aspects of Buddhist philosophy, I mostly found mediocre films such as Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha, which miscasts a wooden Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha Gautama, or biographies on well-known monks, that, although interesting to someone already familiar with their lives, are not any more compelling. One of the few exceptions to this is Martin Scorsese’s Kundun, which owes its success not only to excellent cinematography (Roger Deakins) and scoring (Philip Glass) but especially to Scorsese’s ability to exploit core Buddhist concepts to striking poetic effect.

The film follows the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s childhood and his subsequent struggles with the Chinese invasion of Tibet. From the opening shot, there is a dynamism to the film’s editing (Thelma Schoonmaker) and cinematography characteristic of Martin Scorsese’s best films. The film begins with an image of the Himalayas, which transitions into a reverse video of a mandala as it is blown away, making it seem like the wind itself was creating the sandpainting. There is an elegance to this opening that makes it clear, from the start, that Kundun is a work of art first and an act of devotion second. […]