Rupert Pupkin. The name slides off the tongue like luggage off an airport carousel. And as portrayed by Robert De Niro -- post Jake LaMotta, pre Noodles Aaronsen -- he is one of the more memorable pieces of cultural/emotional baggage produced by the American screen. A hero of dubious sanity. Dubious worth. More cringe-worthy than an episode of “Two Broke Girls.” He is “The King of Comedy.” And he will be closing the Tribeca Film Festival on April 27.
The festival is announcing today that then newly restored, 30th anniversary version of Martin Scorsese’s notorious, groundbreaking film (with its startling performance by Jerry Lewis) would bring the 12th edition of the sort-of-downtown Manhattan festival to a close. It would be hard to think of a better choice. De Niro is, of course, one of the festival’s founders (with Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff) and the film, which has been restored by the Film Foundation, Regency Enterprises and Twentieth Century Fox, seems ripe for our times. Rupert was scary in 1983. Now he seems scary, and prescient.
For those who don’t know, Rupert is a self-deluded would-be comic who, with his equally crazy accomplice Masha (Sandra Bernhard) kidnaps the king of late-night TV, Jerry Langford (Lewis), and holds him hostage so he can do his act on Langford’s show. It was dark, it was dangerous, and Rupert’s comedy was intentionally horrible. What’ll be interesting is to see if audiences find him flat-out funnier now than they did in 1983, and whether the dynamics of the film have changed: The standards of comedy are so much lower now, you can almost imagine some nitwit at a network offering Pupkin his own show.
In the announcement from Tribeca, co-founder Rosenthakl said, “Twelve years ago, when we announced the first festival, it was Marty’s idea for us to feature restored and rediscovered films … ‘The King of Comedy’ was so ahead of its time, it seems more relevant today than it was 30 years ago. We are so grateful to Jim Gianopulos and Regency for helping to restore such an iconic film and ensuring it remains a part of our cultural heritage.”
“The King of Comedy’ is being restored digitally in 4K from the original camera negatives at Sony Colorworks; John Polito at Audio Mechanics is digitally restoring the soundtrack. The Film Foundation is Scorsese’s organization, dedicated to film preservation.
In the prepared release, De Niro added, “I was a big fan of the script and was very excited to do it with Marty and happy that we finally made it. The fact that it’s been restored (hard to believe that so many years have passed) is even all the better, and I can't wait to see it on our closing night.”