Auteurism and Scorseses King of Comedy
Auteurism refers to the worldview of a director and how, whether consciously or not, that view can be located by analyzing their body of work. For the majority of directors-for-hire, a singular worldview is not discernable, but there are those few genius directors ??“ among them, Hitchcock, Hawks, Wilder, Ray and Sirk ??“ working within the strict confines of the classical Hollywood studio system, who produced work that revealed very specific and consistent world views expressed through their personal styles and masterful mise-en-scene. The concept rose to prominence in France following Alexander Astruc??™s article on the camera-stylo in 1948, Francois Truffaut, building on Astruc??™s work, published his polemic, A Certain Tendency of French Cinema, arguing that director??™s, as the author??™s of their films, should be producing works that reflect their personal visions. The nature of film production is innately a collaborative process, rendering the very idea of an auteur altogether unusual and, some might surmise, impossible. And yet, their remains that rare director who manages to represent their personal view of the world on screen: a view that, through watching the oeuvre of their work, becomes clearer ??“ almost as though it were a mysterious jigsaw of sorts. Therefore, auteurism is virtually indiscernible just by viewing a single film. One must see multiple films. We can, however, begin to delineate themes from one film and from there, note whether these themes cross over into the director??™s other work. The King of Comedy (1983) directed by Martin Scorsese can be approached from an auteurist perspective as we investigate Scorsese??™s critique of a culture that is obsessed with fame, success and celebrity. Through his depiction of Rupert Pupkin, played by Robert DeNiro, we get a sense of Scorsese??™s jaundiced outlook on the American Dream.
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An auteur is a director who leaves an individual style and unique trace on their film which distinguishes them from other artists. Viewers can usually identify a particular auteur??™s film through their use of reoccurring and repetitive production elements/film techniques that they may use throughout the body of their work. Director Martin Scorsese frequently uses slow motion techniques and is renowned for his use of freeze frame. These stylistic elements are particularly noticeable prior to the opening credits of The King of Comedy as Pupkin makes his way into the crowd of fans waiting for talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) at the studio??™s back door. Scorsese uses slow motion to emphasise a particular moment and draw our attention to those things that matter most to his characters. Taxi Driver includes a sequence in which Scorsese himself is perched at a street corner and watches Sybil Shepherd walk on by, emphasising the male gaze (knowingly controlled by the director) and the subject of that gaze (Shepherd). In The King of Comedy, as Pupkin (de Niro) approaches a gathered crowd in the films opening scene, Scorsese shows de Niro, dressed in his powder blue suit, walk in slow-mo towards the crowd. This man sees himself as set apart from the throng of fans waiting for Langford. This is confirmed when, greeted by other fans, who we quickly come to recognise as autograph hunters, Pupkin says to them (when asked to swap autographs) that “this is not my whole life”. Later we see Pupkins autograph book and it is full of well-known stars and celebrities. Pupkin longs to be on the other side of stardom and he sees Langford as his ticket to the inside. As this sequence continues and Langford is ushered through the rabble to his waiting limousine, Pupkin “saves” Langford from crazed fan, Masha, waiting inside the car. Standing beside Langford, who has exited to car to get away from Masha, Pupkin pushes back the crowd pressing in and bends down to look in the car. An interior shot shows us Masha thrashing inside the car to get out, with Pupkin staring in. Scorsese uses his trademark freeze (a style he uses throughout Goodfellas) to show Pupkin framed at the window in such a way that he appears to be on television, looking out at the frenzied hands of a fan. In this one scene, Scorsese has ingeniously set up the theme for his film and introduced us to his feelings about fame and celebrity in America – everybody desires it and counts themselves worthless without it.
The King of Comedy is different from Scorsese??™s previous body of work where he very often dealt with mafia films set in Italian american neighborhoods in New York City. Although that??™s what he dealt with which determined his style of an auteur to a great extent, The King of Comedy??™ is some way similar to his previous work as he is still exploring the darker sides of our existence. Through Rupert Pupkin (DeNiro) character as an obsessed wannabe celebrity, Scorsese is projecting his outlook on the dark side of the cult of celebrity. Using Pupkin as a mouthpiece for his own personal views, you can see a clear parallel between his celebrity-crazed character and our own cultural obsession with fame, celebrity and fortune. “Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime,” Pupkin states in his stand-up routine when he finally gets his fifteen minutes of fame on The Jerry Langford Show. This line encapsulates Scorsese??™s perception of these success hungry wannabe??™s and also the mentality of these people that would do just about anything to gain media attention. It shows the modern cultures disregard for the aftermath of their actions through their obsession to be noticed. In this film, The King of Comedy, Scorsese hasn??™t consulted themes of machismo and organised crime, however he has delivered his personal view of the dark side of the film industry, critiquing a culture obsessed with celebrity and fame.
Scorsese??™s dark view of Americas cultural obsession with celebrity seems prescient. We can observe this film in retrospect of our culture now with reality show obsessions and people becoming celebrities based on ???one off??™ you tube videos. We can get a sense of his true power as an auteur having in some ways predicted this trend in his film ???Kings of Comedy??? almost 30 years ago. It is disturbing to think of how desperate the modern culture is just through recognizing the current entertainment culture. Nowadays, with hundreds of channels being accessible all over the globe, DVD??™s, films and internet people are trying to act more outrageously than the guy before them in order to gain this ???needed??™ attention.
Overall, it is the directors personal style and artistic vision projected onto screen that makes them an ???auteur.??™ Often recognizable through a variety of a certain directors films, will be their own trademarks such as particular themes, production elements and film techniques. Martin Scorsese??™s auteurist approach is reflected in his film ???The King of Comedy??™ as it critiques our cultures obsession with fame. Through his depiction of character Rupert Pupkin he was able to express his own personal views of the disturbing reality of modern culture and the film industry. Unlike many films Scorsese has produced in the past, he still focuses on the darker side which seems to be a key theme/element within a variety of his films. Not being a major hit at the box office, Scorsese took a risk, however he was still able to predict this trend of cultural obsession with celebrity back in 1983, giving him the power as an auteur.