I couldn't find that Kael review, but apparently she was a huge, early booster of Scorsese's, then tore apart "Raging Bull" AND "King of Comedy" in her reviews, with the latter getting a very harsh beating. Also, Scorsese apparently was on his way out on New Year's Eve when he caught a bit of "Entertainment Tonight" (shudder) and they did some bit about "King of Comedy" being the year's biggest flop or something like that. It hurt Scorsese, not because he respected the show as an arbiter of good taste, but because it was another concrete signal that the 'era of personal movies' bankrolled by major studios was truly over.
I'll have to see "King of Comedy" again, probably some other time. In the meantime, here's an interview Gene Siskel did in 1985. It's about "After Hours" and the first attempt at "Last Temptation," but at the end, they talk about "King of Comedy." I was going to edit it, but I figured the whole article was worth reading.
BIG BUCKS LIE IN ONE DIRECTION, BUT IT`S NOT SCORSESE`S WAY
September 15, 1985
Author: Gene Siskel, Movie critic.
Estimated printed pages: 9
In New York the other day a young art dealer asked a film critic to name his favorite young director. ``Martin Scorsese is the best young filmmaker in America,`` the critic answered. Then he realized that Scorsese is 42 years old.
That story cuts two ways. It`s a tribute to both the vitality of Scorsese`s films (``Mean Streets,`` ``Taxi Driver,`` ``Raging Bull``) as well as a sad commentary on the paucity of truly talented young filmmakers working in our nation today.
Where is the 30-year-old director, as Scorsese was, making such an unforgettable, street-smart, rites-of-passage film as ``Mean Streets``?
Indeed, it can be said that Scorsese, if not truly young, is the last great young American director to emerge from the film school generation. An admirer of the films of Federico Fellini, Scorsese now appears to be the last young director who aspires to make ``the great American movie.``
The film-making generation that has followed him considers Steven Spielberg their god, and for years have been trying to make ``the great American hit.`` It`s a question of whether one views film-making as art or commerce, and Scorsese`s preference is clear.
These thoughts about Scorsese`s age and art were triggered by a recent preview of his latest feature, a chilling but very funny Manhattan nightmare called ``After Hours,`` and by a conversation in the director`s three-story loft in Lower Manhattan.
Small, bearded, intense and recently married for the fourth time, Scorsese says he has put the loft up for sale.
``We`re both small people,`` he says about himself and Barbara De Fina, his former film production assistant wife, ``and this place is just too big. We can`t have an intimate conversation.``
Two huge vintage French movie posters--Jean Cocteau`s ``The Beauty and the Beast`` and Jean Renoir`s ``Rules of the Game``--dominate the main, sparsely furnished living space, which contains as much state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment and air conditioning (for the director`s asthma) as furniture.
His home looks out appropriately onto some rather mean Manhattan streets, including the scene of a recent mass murder, as well as, farther in the distance, the World Trade Center.
The location of his home is not far from the streets where he shot ``After Hours,`` the story of one long night in the life of Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a bored yuppie who ventures into Manhattan`s SoHo district after meeting an attractive young woman (Rosanna Arquette) who holds out the promise of easy sex.
Alas, nothing will come easy for Paul Hackett on this star-crossed night. In what almost plays as an extended version of a ``Twilight Zone`` episode, Paul Hackett encounters a suicide, kinky sex, a frantic taxi driver, thieves in the night, strange women who appear to have come from a time warp and even a change in New York`s subway fares.
Says Paul at about 4:30 in the morning, ``I just want to get home. I`ve had a terrible, terrible night. Terrible, do you understand?``
Part of the humor of ``After Hours`` comes out of Paul Hackett getting his fingers burned when he tries to reach for sex. The film is at its best when we can feel the tension as he tries to decide when to make his move with the variety of women he meets.
``Yes, it all goes back to fears about how far to put your arm around a girl,`` Scorsese said with a laugh.
But as weird as the scene in SoHo may be, Scorsese, working from a first script by 26-year-old writer Joseph Minion, makes it very clear that life there is more vibrant, more genuine than the boring Uptown office where Paul works. Could ``After Hours`` be Scorsese`s attack on yuppiedom?
``I don`t know if that`s the message of the film,`` Scorsese said, ``but it`s absolutely true about the way I feel about those two worlds. SoHo has everything. I just think this yuppie thing is awful. I really did want to take one and put him through a night like that. I mean, what is this yuppie thing after all? We`ve only been hearing about for a year, but it`s been a longer time coming. It`s all this emphasis on material values.
``Now, granted, I try to get the best financial deal for myself that I can, but I do make concessions. I had to take a big cut to make this picture.`` And Scorsese, says a longtime associate, is well known for giving away portions of his profit participation as a director in exchange for the ability to have a longer shooting time on his films.
Although ``After Hours`` has its humorous side, one gets the feeling Paul Hackett`s scary night is no worse than many nights in Scorsese`s own life.
In addition to his series of marital failures and reported cocaine abuse (``That was just a side issue for a year or so,`` he says, ``the problems were deeper than that.``), Scorsese has had great difficulty attracting audiences in a size equal to his critical acclaim and the respect his colleagues have for him. Spielberg has said that Scorsese is the ``greatest artist`` of his film-making generation.
``What`s happened (to artistic freedom) in the last eight years has been phenomenal,`` Scorsese said. ``It`s so hard to get any kind of picture made that`s slightly different. The only way you can do it, if at all now, is for a (low) price.
`` `After Hours` cost only $4 million (about one-third of the cost of today`s average studio picture). I took less than half of my usual salary as director. And we shot fast--40 nights.
``Right now I`m pitching directing a `50s love story with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Carlo Ponti would produce. But we have to make it at a very cheap price to get anyone to listen.
``I don`t know in the next 5 to 10 years,`` Scorsese said, ``where I`d be able to make a picture like `Raging Bull` again, and make it as slowly and as carefully as we did. We shot for 20 weeks--10 weeks of dramatic scenes and 10 weeks of fight scenes--followed by some time off (for Robert De Niro to gain 50 pounds to play the dissolute Jake LaMotta) and then 10 more days of shooting.
``My dream,`` Scorsese continued, ``always was to make experimental pictures within the mainstream. My historical model was someone like Fritz Lang, who came to this country having already established a worldwide reputation with films like `Metropolis` but still was able to make wonderful so-called film noir in this country. Similarly Jean Renoir made such great films as `The River,` `The Southerner` and `Diary of a Chamber-maid.`
``But they both had their problems. All Renoir ever wanted was a three-picture-a-year deal at MGM, and he never got it. I thought about that a lot when I couldn`t get `Temptation` made or when `King of Comedy` was really distributed (all around this country).
``Also I`ve talked to Steve Spielberg. We`ve always talked about doing things together. He told me he`d love for me to make a picture that makes a lot of money, because, he said, `You`ve done everything else, you`re such a great director and I`d like to see you happy.```
Scorsese and Spielberg now have collaborated, but only on a 30-minute TV show. Scorsese is directing an episode of Spielberg`s ``Amazing Stories`` series for NBC-TV this fall. `We`re not supposed to talk about the scripts,`` Scorsese said, `but I`ll tell you this much. My episode, which is based on a story Steve came up with, is about a horror film writer who undergoes a transformation. It has allowed me to make a very precise vignette about paranoia.``
Paranoia is a big part of Scorsese`s life and films. It runs all throughout ``After Hours.`` And it was part of his daily work life with the box-office failure of ``The King of Comedy.``
In fact, ``After Hours`` represents a compromise of sorts for Scorsese. It was not the film that he had intended to make after his bitter ``King of Comedy,`` a darkly comic attack on celebrity-chasing and show business.
In November, 1983, he was all set to begin filming in Israel a spectacular, $14 million version of the Nikos Kazantzakis novel ``The Last Temptation of Christ`` when Paramount Pictures chief Barry Diller pulled the plug four weeks before shooting was to begin.
``Ultimately what happened is that a number of elements came together to sink the ship,`` Scorsese said. ``I was in L.A., and I had a morning and evening reservation every day to take the flight to Israel. And every day we were delayed I`d make another set of reservations. Meanwhile I was busy drawing my storyboards (scene sketches).
``But everything else was done. The picture was totally cast, the sets were built and the costumes were made. They were later used for `King David,` `` he said with a rueful laugh, referring to the disastrous Biblical epic starring Richard Gere.
``What happened is that Barry Diller was getting a lot of pressure from Martin Davis, the chairman of Gulf + Western Industries (which owns Paramount). Letters from the Moral Majority were piling up on Davis` desk in New York, claiming that we were going to make a film in which Jesus was portrayed as a homosexual. That wasn`t the case at all, either in the film or in the novel. It was a pure fabrication.
``At the same time, the budget had been escalating. It was originally $11 million. Then it was $14 million. And I wanted to ask for more. My producer, Irwin Winkler, said there was no way I could shoot the film in 90 days. He told me to ask for 10 more days. And then after I did that, he tells me he`s leaving the project for `family reasons` because he doesn`t want to spend that much time away from home.
``So Paramount gave us another producer, but the budget was still a problem (this was during the time of the scandalous ``Heaven`s Gate`` overbudget affair), and what it came down to is that they are much more comfortable having control over pictures in their own back yard.
``They were afraid of a runaway production,`` he said. ``And it`s true, we had walked into Israel with Paramount banners flying and everything that should have cost five cents was now $1.50. We probably should have made it in the south of Italy, where `King David` was made.
``But I can`t overestimate the effect of the fundamentalist protest, because when we began scrambling to find other financing, the same sort of letters from the Moral Majority began showing up on the desks of whomever we talked to. I think we dealt with 26 people between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a number of them said, `We like the (Paul Schrader) script, but we can`t touch this picture.` It was almost like we were being blacklisted.
``Then in March, the French government gave us some (seed) money, but they took it back after the Archbishop of Paris complained after the same letters began showing up.``
And what did Scorsese really want to say about Jesus in his film?
``It really comes from the Kazantzakis novel, which is an attempt to reach an identification with Jesus. Let`s take me for an example. I`m a Roman Catholic and I`ve been married four times. Now that means I`m excommunicated. ``And by the book, excommunication means that you have no right to talk to God. You need the church to intercede for you. Now what I`m saying is, if people (like me) say to themselves, `I`m no good, I`m such a bad sinner, I keep on doing the same thing, whether it`s drinking or drugs or gambling or murder` . . . and if you can see Jesus up there on the screen dealing with the same kind of conflicts, then maybe you can think that there`s hope for you.
Scorsese in his films always has been concerned with the possibility of redemption for sinners, particularly in `Mean Streets` and `Raging Bull.`
``Yes, I think `Raging Bull` was the most obvious example, and with `Mean Streets,` the central notion was how do you live a Christian life in that kind of (crime-riddled) environment?`
The only concrete piece of information to leak about Paul Schrader`s script for `The Last Temptation of Christ` was that at one point Jesus (to be played by former Chicago actor Aidan Quinn) was going to reach into his chest and pull out his heart and give it to someone.
``That was Paul`s idea of the Sacred Heart and following one`s heart,`` Scorsese said. ``All of the miracles were going to be done in a minimal way, because you were going to be seeing them from the other guy`s point of view.
It was (going to be portrayed) sort of like mass hypnosis--it could be or it couldn`t be real.
``One day we`ll get it made,`` Scorsese said with a sigh. ``But right now the climate of this country and the climate around the world is much too conservative.``
That in part explains why Scorsese doesn`t go out to the movies much these days. Rceently, he says, he has ventured out of his home only to see the latest films by Nicolas Roeg (``Eureka,`` ``Insignificance``) and his colleague Paul Schrader (``Mishima``).
``Roeg`s work is always impressive, even if I don`t always like everything about it. And with him I think it`s important to see it always on a big screen.
``I think `Mishima` is really a masterpiece and Paul`s best work. It`s always scary seeing a film by a friend. You sit there with mixed feelings. And `Mishima` was so good, I sat there thinking, `This is great, this is what I should be doing.` I know this was a dream project for Paul for many years, and I really admire the storytelling devices he used. I wound up leaving the film thinking I knew nothing about (the controversial Japanese novelist) Mishima and yet somehow I knew everything about Mishima.``
It was late in the afternoon now, and Scorsese had an appointment Uptown with a dentist. As we drove through the streets of New York, the streets of all of his great films, we talked about films unrecognized in their time that might have a long life.
The name of his own `King of Comedy` came up. `You should read what (director) John Huston said about it in his recent Playboy interview. He said he hated it at first and then saw it three more times and now thinks it`s quite terrific.``
``King of Comedy`` told of a desperate fan`s wish to appear on a talk show. Eventually he gets his wish, but only after kidnaping the host, with a guest shot being the ransom. A lot of Scorsese fans had a problem with the ending of the film, in which the fan becomes a media hero much like Robert De Niro`s character in `Taxi Driver.`
``At first I thought about ending the film with Jerry Lewis (who played the talk show host) having him back on his show. But I asked Jerry about that, and he said there would be no way he would ever put on his show a guy who had just kidnaped him. So I went with the ending you saw. Only later did I realize how similar it was to `Taxi Driver.`
``But still, once you get over the original insult of the film, I think it can get to you. At first, though, even I didn`t like it. I`d only watch parts of it on TV. It`s so grim. For me it`s about how my fantasies and DeNiro`s fantasies have come about. We were like the guy in that movie. We wanted to get into show business. We were fascinated by celebrities. Now we`re a part of it. It`s very strange.
``But I didn`t like making the picture. I didn`t like cutting it. And I don`t like to see it. I hate it. A lot of that had to do with my not being in a good frame of mind when I made it. But I still think it`s a good movie.``
And now Scorsese had a smile on his face. And he did look like a young filmmaker after all.