Sandra Bernhard On Sharing ‘The King of Comedy’ Set With Scorcese & De Niro

When I was running clubs, I had the pleasure of booking Sandra Bernhard a number of times. Her talent – and the inevitable and often uncomfortably wonderful swirl of controversy that defines her every move – makes her a tone-setting choice for a big night. You always know where she stands, and sometimes you better be sitting down to hear it. I chatted with her last month, and we did a phoner earlier in the week to help promote the 30th anniversary of The King of Comedy – a restored version of the 1982 Martin Scorsese flick, starring Robert De Niro and Sandra – that’s closing the Tribeca Film Festival.

Where did your character Masha from The King of Comedy come from? Is it a combination of your childhood friends and memories, or is it you?
No. It’s totally based on who I was as at the time, which was a very, you know, super-energized person (laughs). I fit the bill, and the kind of crazy, neurotic aspects of the character Masha. are me. And of course, as an actress, I brought other elements to it, but it was not a stretch for me to play that role. 

So Jerry Lewis was actually a second choice to Johnny Carson, who actually had his own talk show. But Jerry did what I thought was one of the best performances of his career in this film. There’s one scene where De Niro started yelling racial epithets at him, trying to get a rise out of him, which really set the tone. What was it like working with Jerry? 
Well, for me it was very intimidating and intense. Everything that kind of felt natural between the two of us as people also worked for the role because, as I’ve often said, I don’t think he’d [Jerry Lewis] ever worked with a woman like me before who was from a post-feminist era. I think every woman he had ever worked with was kind of just there, as a foil. So this is a new experience for him. Of course, I grew up on his work, you know, and looked up to him, so it was a funny relationship but it worked for the characters. 

The incredible scene where you have him duct-taped to the chair, and you’re playing with him – and it’s all sexual — 
Right.

Basically he’s threatened and not enjoying it, and you were just in heaven. Did the two of you talk about it in advance or did it just unfold?
Well, it was a combination. We had rehearsed some of these scenes, but a lot of it was just improvised. Jerry was sort of watching it all unfold the first time, as I was just there in the moment. It was all very new and fresh, so I think all the reactions everybody had were very genuine and organic, since a lot of the stuff was not written. It just kind of came from me, so it was a combination of being truly kind of surprised and engaged in the scene. 

I’ve met a lot comedians in my private life, and a lot of them are just on all the time. You talk to a guy like Gilbert Gottfried, and he’s just non-stop. There’s no difference between the character on stage, and the character himself as a person. Is the Jerry we saw in film natural? More like the real Jerry?
Yeah, yeah, he is. He likes to pontificate and tell people his opinions. He’s a little bit, you know, well, you know – he’s Jerry! He’s been around. He’s an auteur. 

It’s been 30 years – that’s a big chunk of time! When’s the last time you saw the film?
In its entirety?  I can’t even remember. I’ve seen bits and pieces of it, but I have not sat and watched it from stem to stern in quite a long time. 

Are you attending the premiere?
I actually cannot attend the premiere. I booked a performance months ago that’s in association with the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg, and I can’t get out of it. I’m doing a lot of press and a few little, surprise things to promote the event that I can’t talk about right now cause they’re surprises!

There was a report that it took De Niro seven years to work with Scorsese again. Since then, they’ve done a number of films together. Both said the set was full of so much tension. Do you recall that kind of tension?
No, I didn’t sense any tension at all. The material was intense and the roles were intense, but I felt like everybody got along really well, and I had an incredible time. I didn’t get caught up in any drama, but I don’t remember any… you know?

That was Wikipedia talking, so…
OH! They don’t know – they’re nobodies! (laughs) Never draw on anything from Wikipedia! 

“Research.” Really though, the film was very uneasy to watch. It was a comedy with some chilling scenes in it. I remember not knowing what to say when I walked out, and every time since.
Right. It hits you from a lot of different levels, which I think is amazing, because that’s what filmmaking should do. 

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Looking Back on the Tortured Minds Behind ‘Taxi Driver’

This weekend, NYC’s Landmark Sunshine will screen Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver Friday through Sunday. So in honor of the film’s screening, we’re giving you another look at our Cinematic Panic article from January takes a look inside the mind of Scorsese’s brooding picture.

“This movie is as good as Citizen Kane…no, it’s better than Citizen Kane, it’s got more heart,” said John Cassavetes to Martin Scorsese after watching Who’s That Knocking at My Door for the first time. Scorsese nearly passed out. He worshipped Cassavetes, and from then on Cassavetes looked at him like son. And although both Cassavetes and Scorsese both put out some of the best films of the 1970s, they were from two entirely different schools of filmmaking. The Scorseses of the world inherited what the Cassavetes generation had paved the way for. But Cassavetes was just insular in his world, extremely consumed by his own concerns. It was moreso the Hopper-Beatty-Nicholson generation that filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, stumbled down from. These young filmmakers were now able to operate on the notion that there could be a conversation between them and the audience. “They were the benefactors, the prodigy of New Hollywood battles fought and won for artistic integrity and youth recognition by everyone from Arthur Penn to Stanley Kubrick and Peter Fonda," said Peter Biskind in his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls that provides perhaps the best written account of this era in Hollywood.

And although he’s one of Hollywood greatest living legends and cinematic minds today, about 40 years ago Scorsese was just a chubby young filmmaker, fresh out of school and clawing at the bit to get his voice heard and his work seen. Sandy Weintraub, who Scorsese collaborated with artistically as well as romantically, said, “Marty was tempestuous, volatile, and passionate about his life…he breathed, ate, and shat movies. I would tell him about my dreams and he would tell me about the movie he had seen on TV the day before.” Coming from a strictly Catholic Italian-American family in New York, Scorsese had grown up a child plagued with physical ailments. His asthma forced him to stay inside while other young kids played outside, thus helping him develop his lifelong obsession with cinema and the escape into other worlds through the screen.

“The period from ’71 to ’76 was the best period because we were just starting out,” Scorcese said. “We couldn’t wait for our friends’ next pictures, Brian [De Palma]’s next picture, Francis [Ford Coppola]’s next picture, to see what they were doing. Dinners in Chinese restaurants midday in L.A. with Spielberg and Lucas.” And Nicholas Beach was where he and Sandy would make the trip up the Pacific Coast Highway each weekend: a secluded spot filled with their group of filmmaking pals "where the only rules were the ones we made." As is told in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, one day Peter Boyle came to stay at the beach and brought a vile of coke—suddenly, "Eve bit into the apple." It was new to most everyone, not knowing exactly how to do it. But it stuck. Actress Margot Kidder recalled, “Out of the drugs came a lot of swampy ideas but also a lot of creative thinking and most important, breaking down of personal barriers and that ridiculousness of pride of holding oneself and having a phony social persona. If that hadn’t been the case, none of us would have developed our talents. But Spielberg didn’t take drugs, Brian didn’t, Marty didn’t until later when he got into trouble with coke. The directors who ended up successful were very protective of their own brains.”

Scorsese had enough problems. He was filled with a mix of Catholic guilt and anxieties created by his own strenuous mind. Flying was a disaster—he had to grip a crucifix until his knuckles turned white during take off, he was afraid the number eleven (he wouldn’t go anywhere near it or anything that added up to it), and he was also absolutely convinced that he was going to die by age 40. It wasn’t a self-destructive notion, rather just an innate knowledge that he was going to live hard and die young whether it be from his always-uneasy health or a plane crash. So it seems for someone so burdened by neurosis, he would find a companion in a like-minded individual who was also "culturally and emotionally sandbagged by the ’50s"—that person being Paul Schrader, just one of the boys at the beach. But it wasn’t so easy.

Schrader was a very messed up human—"deranged" many would say. He was extremely intelligent but cynical and depressive. He was raised in a strict Dutch Calvinist household with parents that would whip him with electrical chords and poke him in the hand with needles, telling him, “This is what hell will feel like.” Martin Scorsese once said that his entire life was "religion and film, nothing else," and it seems as though Schrader too shared that sentiment. He did not see a movie until he was seventeen, and when he did he began to hallucinate, believing he had committed some great sin and was going to burn in Hell forever. His strict Calvinist upbringing left a paralyzing imprint on his work; film for him will always be dirt—cinema, sex, and sin forever linked in Schrader’s eyes. But he did not shy away from these subjects; he embraced them manically, using them as a way to expose his darkest desires that had always been forbidden. He put his sins on paper as a way to relieve himself of them, as if he will be freed once they are out of his head and onto the page. He exploits the dark side of sex and its industry in his films (his male characters frequently visit pornographic theaters and brothels), but he does so in a way that’s stripped of any ounce of sensuality or desire. The Calvinists believe that if you do these things right in your life, death will be your salvation and you’ll go to Heaven. Schrader, however, had committed enough sin to burn in Hell. These feelings of guilt and fear left him socially and psychologically disturbed, feeling removed from the world around him, like a lonely figure traveling through life.

One day, over a game of chess, Schrader told Brian De Palma that he had written a script called Taxi Driver. De Palma sent it to producer Michael Phillips who loved it but knew finding a director to take on something so bizarre would be a challenge. Scorsese wanted it—bad. But when Schrader saw a cut of Scorcese’s Boxcar Bertha, he just rolled his eyes. He discussed the script with Pauline Kael who “didn’t know if De Niro could carry a film.” At that time, Robert De Niro was a fairly unknown actor who came from a middle-class bohemian upbringing—a stark contrast to that of Schrader and Scorsese, the latter fascinated by the idea of this “paradise” to be raised in a creative environment. De Niro’s rebellion came from “getting into the heavy street thing.” But he was a serious actor and rarely ever spoke, which seems like a far cry to the De Niro we know today. Casting director Nessa Hyams once said, “You couldn’t get De Niro arrested.” He rarely attended parties or hung out; when he did go to a party, he would often be found falling asleep on the couch.

After the release of Mean Streets, Scorsese and De Niro both got the green light, and Taxi Driver came into action. The film is a hard-edged look at the New York City streets told through the lens of an art film. The neon-lit buildings sparkle and melt onto the screen in contrast to the filth and scum that penetrate the sidewalks and, thusly, the collective psyche of the film. Biskind describes the film best as:

…following the nocturnal wanderings of a cabbie, Travis Bickle—a violent, Vietnam vet—through Times Square as he encounters a variety of human offal and rountinely cleans the blood and come off his backseat. He gets a crush on a blonde campaign worker, and his attention wanders between her and Iris, a twelve-year-old hooker. The story climaxes in a bloodbath, as he blows away Iris’s pimp and johns in an attempt to redeem her.

Taxi Driver begins with the menacing and anxiety-invoking Bernard Herrmann score that encompasses the rest of the film. Scorceses doesn’t hide anything. The close up of Travis’s eyes blend with the scenery as we realize the city around him is just as much of a character as he is. Biskind goes on to say, "To paraphrase Schrader, if you put Penn and Antonioni in bed together, put a gun to their heads and told them to fuck while Bresson watched through the keyhole, you got Taxi Driver." Fair enough.

Travis must transform himself from the inside out in order to accomplish what he’s set out to do. He must go down into the underworld where he’s seeking vengeance on and become the scum he sees on the streets. In order to save Iris and help rid the world of the filth polluting the streets, he tries to make himself a machine. He goes from eating terribly to working out everyday and trying to make himself as hard as possible—mentally and physically. He changes his lax attitude and becomes strict with himself as if he is completely possessed by his mission. His life needed a purpose and this was it. When special forces were going into battle, they would shave their hair into a Mohawk; as a veteran, it would make sense that Travis would do the same. This was his battle. Paul Schrader dressed De Niro in his own clothes for the film as Travis. He could have played the role himself.

With Michael Chapman as the DP and Raoul Coutard as cinematographer, the film takes the sort of European aesthetic and sense of isolation with an hint of an Americana façade. Everyone involved in the film was influenced heavily by the work of the French new wave. Chapman said, “Godard was the great freeing influence for all of us. He said, ‘Look, you don’t have to worry about this or that’”—a notion that made its way into Taxi Driver from the Alka Seltzer shot reference to 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her to the moment Travis drives into the car garage and the camera goes elsewhere, saying, ‘Don’t look at this guy, look at the word he lives in.’ When Scorsese was forced to desaturate the colors in the denouement of the film so that it could slide from an X-rating to an R, he thought the joke was on everyone else—the washed-out grit of it all only made it that much more brutal.

In the beginning of the film, Travis speaks of rain washing the scum off the streets; in the end he takes on the role of that rain. The final moments leave us questioning whether or not he kills himself as a means of salvation, or if it is in fact a reality that he is a hero and Iris is returned home safely to her parents. But whatever audiences believed, they loved it, and the film was a surprising commercial success. Bickle look-alikes lined up around the block to see the film the day it opened, feeling a connection to this new and bizarre piece of cinema that reflected not only where things were at but the frightening reality of what we are all capable of. When we watch the film now and look back on these young people involved, those men thriving with talent and exploding with an aggressive passion, one cannot help but wonder what will speak to our generation the way this film did to those of the time. I suppose only time will tell. 

Celebrate Robert De Niro’s Birthday With a Supercut of His Finest Fiery Moments

Casting director Nessa Hyams once said, “You couldn’t get De Niro arrested.” Notoriously a wallflower back in his early days, the now iconic actor rarely attended parties or hung out; when he did go to a party, he would often be found falling asleep on the couch. He was very serious and rarely ever spoke, which seems like a far cry from the brilliantly explosive icon of American cinema we know today—however its that brooding, contemplative nature that also makes him such a genius on screen.

Throughout his career, De Niro has always shown a fascinating ability to disappear into his characters and live under their skin, making him one of the most versatile and beloved actors who has been a Hollywood staple for almost five decades now. And as tomorrow is his 70th birthday, the good folks over at Flavorwire have put together a supercut of De Niro at his boiling point, looking back on 30 of his films from Raging Bull and Goodfellas to The King of Comedy and Cape Fear. Enjoy.

See Another Video of Young Bradley Cooper Asking Thoughtful Questions on ‘Inside the Actors Studio’

To most of the world, Bradey Cooper: Serious Actor is a rather new concept. But to Cooper himself, I am assuming that has been his intention all along. And by now, we’ve all seen images from a less-polished but adorable young student Coop asking Robert De Niro a very acterly queston on Inside the Actors Studio

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Bradley: How you doing Mr De Niro, my name is Bradley Cooper and my question is regarding Awakenings. You talked about your research and how you, you interviewed a lot of patients and people who had the different diseases. There was one mannerism you had during the interview process when they were asking you when you wanted to go outside the building and go for a walk and you went like this with your finger and you sort of made up for it by rubbing your eyebrow and I was wondering, is that something that you saw people do, trying to make up for their ticks or was that something that happened in the moment?
Robert De Niro: That’s a good question.

I had seen that clip in my past obsessive James Lipton phase, so after seeing Silver Linings Playbook for the first time, my immediate reaction was immensive pride for Bradley Cooper—which is a weird feeling to be consumed by. Anyway, as the Oscars are this Sunday, it’s interesting to see Hollywood come full circle as Cooper and De Niro are nominated alongside one another for Silver Linings like the good father-son duo they are. It was De Niro afterall who championed Cooper for the role.

But that wasn’t his only time on the show. In another episode—new to me—we see a long-haired and tie-clad inquisitive Cooper propose a question to Sean Penn and then watch him very intently as he answers. All y’all acting students out there…take notes?

Oscar Deathmatch: Pitting the Casts of ‘Reds’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ Against Each Other

Silver Linings Playbook is slowly edging its way closer and closer to grabbing up some Oscars, and the feel-good film about feeling weird has an aggressive campaign, courtesy of those schemin’ Weinsteins, bent on stealing those trophies away from Daniel Day-Lewis, Jessica Chastain, Tommy Lee Jones, and Anne Hathaway. While it’s unlikely that the entire cast of Silver Linings Playbook will get to walk on stage at the end of February to collect their golden statues (although Jennifer Lawrence’s recent SAG win increases her chances), the film is notable for being the first in 31 years to get nominations in all four acting categories. The other film, of course, was Reds, Warren Beatty’s epic drama about the Russian Revolution. 

Here’s my question: can you really expect the cast of Silver Linings Playbook, a movie about feeeeelings, to go head-to-head with the heavyweights in Reds, a movie about political activism and the endurance of love amid historical revolution? No, you cannot! The cast of Reds would not only drink the cast of Silver Linings Playbook under the table, but I’m willing to bet they could easily knock them off faster than you can sing "Ho Hey." 

But let’s not stop there! Let’s take a look at what each of these eight actors have to offer, shall we?

Warren Beatty vs. Bradley Cooper

Warren Beatty is like, "Who?" Sorry, but Beatty is too busy resting because he’s super exhausted from fucking literally everything in Hollywood. Sure, he’s settled down now with Annette Bening, but his real life made both The Hangover and The Hangover Part II look like The Sandlot. What does Bradley Cooper bring the table? Sure, he can act like a obsessive-compulsive manic-depressive (let’s not forget that Jack Nicholson set the standard back in As Good As It Gets, by the way), and apparently he can tango or something. But can he do all that while writing, producing, and directing a movie—about the Russian Revolution? That clocks in at over three hours? And features documentary-style interviews with the likes of Henry Miller? Cool it, B-Coop. We’ll call you when we re-make Shampoo.

Diane Keaton vs. Jennifer Lawrence

Ohhhh, brother. Diane Keaton has more wacky charm in her pinky than the 22-year-old it-girl has in her entire body. But nevermind the off-screen abilities of these two; let’s talk about their roles in these two movies. Lawrence plays a woman who acts out after the death of her husband by screwing everything in sight, jogging next to a man who wears a plastic bag as a shirt, layering her face with eye-liner, and ballroom dancing. Keaton’s character, on the other hand, falls in love with poet and activist John Reed and alcoholic playwright Eugene O’Neill. The gal from Silver Linings learns to dance, whereas Keaton’s Louise Bryant is present when the course of history is changed forever. Way to put your stamps on the world! 

Jack Nicholson vs. Robert De Niro

This seems like the ultimate match-up, although it’s a bit unfair to put a 44-year-old Jack Nicholson against 69-year-old Robert De Niro. But it must happen, because everyone’s losing their minds over Robert De Niro crying and watching football. Meanwhile, in Reds, Nicholson was busy boning Diane Keaton and writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. No biggie. 

Maureen Stapleton vs. Jacki Weaver

Maureen Stapleton won an Oscar for her portrayal of radical feminist activist Emma Goldman. Jacki Weaver got an Oscar nomination for saying "crabby snacks and homemades" twice (and also because they just needed some nominees because we all know that Anne Hathaway is going to get that thing). This seems like an incredibly even match, right? I’d just like to see Maureen Stapleton’s Emma Goldman clomp around modern-day Philadelphia teaching these people what real suffering is like. Get me on the phone with David O. Russell: I’ve got a great idea for his next dramedy.

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

Cinematic Panic: Looking Back on the Tortured Minds Behind ‘Taxi Driver’

“This movie is as good as Citizen Kane…no, it’s better than Citizen Kane, it’s got more heart,” said John Cassavetes to Martin Scorsese after watching Who’s That Knocking at My Door for the first time. Scorsese nearly passed out. He worshipped Cassavetes, and from then on Cassavetes looked at him like son. And although both Cassavetes and Scorsese both put out some of the best films of the 1970s, they were from two entirely different schools of filmmaking. The Scorseses of the world inherited what the Cassavetes generation had paved the way for. But Cassavetes was just insular in his world, extremely consumed by his own concerns. It was moreso the Hopper-Beatty-Nicholson generation that filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, stumbled down from. These young filmmakers were now able to operate on the notion that there could be a conversation between them and the audience. “They were the benefactors, the prodigy of New Hollywood battles fought and won for artistic integrity and youth recognition by everyone from Arthur Penn to Stanley Kubrick and Peter Fonda,” said Peter Biskind in his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls that provides perhaps the best written account of this era in Hollywood.

And although he’s one of Hollywood greatest living legends and cinematic minds today, about 40 years ago Scorsese was just a chubby young filmmaker, fresh out of school and clawing at the bit to get his voice heard and his work seen. Sandy Weintraub, who Scorsese collaborated with artistically as well as romantically, said, “Marty was tempestuous, volatile, and passionate about his life…he breathed, ate, and shat movies. I would tell him about my dreams and he would tell me about the movie he had seen on TV the day before.” Coming from a strictly Catholic Italian-American family in New York, Scorsese had grown up a child plagued with physical ailments. His asthma forced him to stay inside while other young kids played outside, thus helping him develop his lifelong obsession with cinema and the escape into other worlds through the screen.

1.64389_image

“The period from ’71 to ’76 was the best period because we were just starting out,” Scorcese said. “We couldn’t wait for our friends’ next pictures, Brian [De Palma]’s next picture, Francis [Ford Coppola]’s next picture, to see what they were doing. Dinners in Chinese restaurants midday in L.A. with Spielberg and Lucas.” And Nicholas Beach was where he and Sandy would make the trip up the Pacific Coast Highway each weekend: a secluded spot filled with their group of filmmaking pals “where the only rules were the ones we made.” As is told in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, one day Peter Boyle came to stay at the beach and brought a vile of coke—suddenly, “Eve bit into the apple.” It was new to most everyone, not knowing exactly how to do it. But it stuck. Actress Margot Kidder recalled, “Out of the drugs came a lot of swampy ideas but also a lot of creative thinking and most important, breaking down of personal barriers and that ridiculousness of pride of holding oneself and having a phony social persona. If that hadn’t been the case, none of us would have developed our talents. But Spielberg didn’t take drugs, Brian didn’t, Marty didn’t until later when he got into trouble with coke. The directors who ended up successful were very protective of their own brains.”

Scorsese had enough problems. He was filled with a mix of Catholic guilt and anxieties created by his own strenuous mind. Flying was a disaster—he had to grip a crucifix until his knuckles turned white during take off, he was afraid the number eleven (he wouldn’t go anywhere near it or anything that added up to it), and he was also absolutely convinced that he was going to die by age 40. It wasn’t a self-destructive notion, rather just an innate knowledge that he was going to live hard and die young whether it be from his always-uneasy health or a plane crash. So it seems for someone so burdened by neurosis, he would find a companion in a like-minded individual who was also “culturally and emotionally sandbagged by the ’50s”—that person being Paul Schrader, just one of the boys at the beach. But it wasn’t so easy.

llll

Schrader was a very messed up human—”deranged” many would say. He was extremely intelligent but cynical and depressive. He was raised in a strict Dutch Calvinist household with parents that would whip him with electrical chords and poke him in the hand with needles, telling him, This is what hell will feel like.” Martin Scorsese once said that his entire life was “religion and film, nothing else,” and it seems as though Schrader too shared that sentiment. He did not see a movie until he was seventeen, and when he did he began to hallucinate, believing he had committed some great sin and was going to burn in Hell forever. His strict Calvinist upbringing left a paralyzing imprint on his work; film for him will always be dirt—cinema, sex, and sin forever linked in Schrader’s eyes. But he did not shy away from these subjects; he embraced them manically, using them as a way to expose his darkest desires that had always been forbidden. He put his sins on paper as a way to relieve himself of them, as if he will be freed once they are out of his head and onto the page. He exploits the dark side of sex and its industry in his films (his male characters frequently visit pornographic theaters and brothels), but he does so in a way that’s stripped of any ounce of sensuality or desire. The Calvinists believe that if you do these things right in your life, death will be your salvation and you’ll go to Heaven. Schrader, however, had committed enough sin to burn in Hell. These feelings of guilt and fear left him socially and psychologically disturbed, feeling removed from the world around him, like a lonely figure traveling through life.

One day, over a game of chess, Schrader told Brian De Palma that he had written a script called Taxi Driver. De Palma sent it to producer Michael Phillips who loved it but knew finding a director to take on something so bizarre would be a challenge. Scorsese wanted it—bad. But when Schrader saw a cut of Scorcese’s Boxcar Bertha, he just rolled his eyes. He discussed the script with Pauline Kael who “didn’t know if De Niro could carry a film.” At that time, Robert De Niro was a fairly unknown actor who came from a middle-class bohemian upbringing—a stark contrast to that of Schrader and Scorsese, the latter fascinated by the idea of this “paradise” to be raised in a creative environment. De Niro’s rebellion came from “getting into the heavy street thing.” But he was a serious actor and rarely ever spoke, which seems like a far cry to the De Niro we know today. Casting director Nessa Hyams once said, “You couldn’t get De Niro arrested.” He rarely attended parties or hung out; when he did go to a party, he would often be found falling asleep on the couch.

nnn

After the release of Mean Streets, Scorsese and De Niro both got the green light, and Taxi Driver came into action. The film is a hard-edged look at the New York City streets told through the lens of an art film. The neon-lit buildings sparkle and melt onto the screen in contrast to the filth and scum that penetrate the sidewalks and, thusly, the collective psyche of the film. Biskind describes the film best as:

following the nocturnal wanderings of a cabbie, Travis Bickle—a violent, Vietnam vet—through Times Square as he encounters a variety of human offal and rountinely cleans the blood and come off his backseat. He gets a crush on a blonde campaign worker, and his attention wanders between her and Iris, a twelve-year-old hooker. The story climaxes in a bloodbath, as he blows away Iris’s pimp and johns in an attempt to redeem her.

Taxi Driver begins with the menacing and anxiety-invoking Bernard Herrmann score that encompasses the rest of the film. Scorceses doesn’t hide anything. The close up of Travis’s eyes blend with the scenery as we realize the city around him is just as much of a character as he is. Biskind goes on to say, “To paraphrase Schrader, if you put Penn and Antonioni in bed together, put a gun to their heads and told them to fuck while Bresson watched through the keyhole, you got Taxi Driver.” Fair enough.

ff

Travis must transform himself from the inside out in order to accomplish what he’s set out to do. He must go down into the underworld where he’s seeking vengeance on and become the scum he sees on the streets. In order to save Iris and help rid the world of the filth polluting the streets, he tries to make himself a machine. He goes from eating terribly to working out everyday and trying to make himself as hard as possible—mentally and physically. He changes his lax attitude and becomes strict with himself as if he is completely possessed by his mission. His life needed a purpose and this was it. When special forces were going into battle, they would shave their hair into a Mohawk; as a veteran, it would make sense that Travis would do the same. This was his battle. Paul Schrader dressed De Niro in his own clothes for the film as Travis. He could have played the role himself.

With Michael Chapman as the DP and Raoul Coutard as cinematographer, the film takes the sort of European aesthetic and sense of isolation with an hint of an Americana façade. Everyone involved in the film was influenced heavily by the work of the French new wave. Chapman said, “Godard was the great freeing influence for all of us. He said, ‘Look, you don’t have to worry about this or that’”—a notion that made its way into Taxi Driver from the Alka Seltzer shot reference to 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her to the moment Travis drives into the car garage and the camera goes elsewhere, saying, ‘Don’t look at this guy, look at the word he lives in.’ When Scorsese was forced to desaturate the colors in the denouement of the film so that it could slide from an X-rating to an R, he thought the joke was on everyone else—the washed-out grit of it all only made it that much more brutal.

fff

In the beginning of the film, Travis speaks of rain washing the scum off the streets; in the end he takes on the role of that rain. The final moments leave us questioning whether or not he kills himself as a means of salvation, or if it is in fact a reality that he is a hero and Iris is returned home safely to her parents. But whatever audiences believed, they loved it, and the film was a surprising commercial success. Bickle look-alikes lined up around the block to see the film the day it opened, feeling a connection to this new and bizarre piece of cinema that reflected not only where things were at but the frightening reality of what we are all capable of. When we watch the film now and look back on these young people involved, those men thriving with talent and exploding with an aggressive passion, one cannot help but wonder what will speak to our generation the way this film did to those of the time. I suppose only time will tell.

You can see Taxi Driver tonight and tomorrow at midnight at IFC Center.

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Which One of These Old White Guys Will Win Another Oscar?

Happy Oscar Nominations Day! Did you wake up early to watch Seth McFarland and Emma Stone announce the nominees? Can you think of a quirkier couple to do so? Here’s the run-down: they only bothered to come up with nine movies to nominate for Best Picture, they figured Kathryn Bigelow didn’t need any more nominations (probably because of Bridesmaids solving feminism or something last year), and Jessica Chastain with the Julliard degree is up against a nine-year-old. But most importantly: five old white men are gunning for another Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category. Who will it be?!

Will it be Alan Arkin, showing his range after winning for playing a grumpy, foul-mouthed grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine with his brilliant turn as a grumpy, foul-mouthed film producer in Argo? How about Robert De Niro, who in Silver Linings Playbook gave us the best performance of an old man with OCD tendencies since Jack Nicholson won for As Good As It Gets? Then there’s Philip Seymour Hoffman, who famously raised his voice and twisted his eyeglasses a few times for his Oscar-winning turn as Truman Capote, this time playing L. Rob Hubbard (basically) with his natural, deep voice in The Master. Or will it be Chrisoph Waltz, bringing levity and humor to the American slave trade in the same way he made it OK to finally laugh at—and with—Nazis.

Personally, I think it’s going to be Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln. You see, he sleeps with his black maid (spoiler alert, I guess, although I still refuse to see Lincoln). Remember when he won an Oscar for The Fugitive and said, “I don’t care,” right before Harrison Ford jumped out of that dam? That was a good movie. Hell, just give him another one. Who cares.

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Getting To The Heart Of David O. Russell’s ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

It’s rare in today’s cinematic landscape to find a film that’s not only emotionally engaging and relevant but also teaches you something about yourself and allows you to understand those around you more clearly. And when it comes to films dealing with mental illness, there always seems to be a slant towards the extreme—either we’re viewing those dealing a condition through a stigmatized lens or we’re looking at someone totally consumed by it. So what feels entirely unique is a film that shows what actual life is like—what it is actually like to deal with something profoundly troubling inside yourself, as well as to force yourself to get through the day and live your life in a way that doesn’t allow you to fall prey to it. With his latest film, Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell doesn’t simply make a romantic comedy about troubled adults; he gives us one very specific look into a community of people like yourself and the people that you love, just trying to find a way to make it all work.

Based on the novel of the same title by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings Playbook was given to Russell by Sydney Pollack who owned the rights with his partner Anthony Minghella and Harvey Weinstein. “Were it not from my son who had some of these struggles with bipolarity and other matters, the book would not have grabbed me,” said Russell at a press conference with the cast on Monday. “The characters were fantastic, all very complicated characters—very powerful women and very powerful men grappling with things in a very particular neighborhood way.” Silver Linings tells the story of Pat Solitano (played by Bradley Cooper), a former high school history teacher who returns to his Philadelphia community after being released from a court-ordered stint in a mental hospital. Now living with his parents, Pat Sr. and Dolores (played by Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver), Pat attempts to reconcile with his new life and desperately gain back the affections of his estranged ex-wife, Nikki.

Amidst his recovery, Pat meets Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with troubles of her own. The two tortured souls connect instantly but clash on impact, immediately bonding over their unspoken recognition that they’re different from those around them but their unfiltered personalities find them at odds with one another. After some mild stalking, the two arrange to become friends with benefits—those benefits being Tiffany’s help sneaking Pat’s letters to Nikki in exchange for Pat partnering her in a dance competition she has been eagerly preparing for. 

The characters in Silver Linings—whether it’s Pat’s abrasive deadpan delivery of “saying more inappropriate things than appropriate things,” or the way Tiffany’s entire attitude can turn on a dime in a way that’s as hilarious as it can be heartbreaking—all have their own idiosyncratic tendencies that are embodied by the brilliant performances of the actors who play them. Bradley Cooper delivers the performance of his career, showing an absolute dedication to his work and a selflessness that makes you wonder why we haven’t seen this side of him sooner. Upon watching Wedding Crashers, Russell found it intriguing that Cooper seemed a much angrier person. “When I got to know him he was only more interesting because that guy was 30 pounds heavier and was angrier at that time,” Russell said. “So that was interesting to hear when Bradley told me about himself because that mirrored the journey of Pat. And as Pat is reintroducing himself to his community, I feel so is Bradley when we meet him in the picture as an actor. I don’t think people have seen that face of him in cinema.” 

Russell’s desire was to capture the essence of these very specific communities, and Cooper, being from Philadelphia himself, brought an authenticity and knowledge of that very ritualistic, family-oriented world. “I confided in him early on that I didn’t know if I could do it,” said Cooper of his trepidation about taking on the role next to De Niro. "But he said, ‘You’re from Philly, you’ll be fine.’ And I knew I could say the word ‘dad’ and look at him and that would come from a real place. So that was built in.” De Niro himself got to know Russell over a period of years, allowing them, according to Russell, to “have a personal dialogue about members of our family that had various challenges they’d faced.” The simpatico between De Niro and the entire cast resulted in one of the most dynamic and energetic performances I’ve seen from De Niro in years, utilizing his restrained intensity that’s filled with so much love and so much fear. 

Jennifer Lawrence on the other hand, was not at all who Russell expected to cast. “We thought she was perhaps too young and too inexperienced, we didn’t know how much depth she had,” said Russell, who admitted that at the very last minute she came in and stole the show. It’s hard now to imagine the film without her; she brings such life and charisma to the film, with a presence that feels at once very powerful yet gentle enough to understand that her fragility. “She possesses many qualities of the character,” Russell continued. “She possesses a great maturity emotionally and a great confidence but also a great vulnerability.” Rounding out the cast is Chris Tucker (someone we haven’t seen enough of since Rush Hour) as Danny, Pat’s friend from the mental hospital, who serves up the legal language of the film. "My role was a small role, but it had so much depth to the character," said Tucker. “It was so much fun, and I think this is one of the most important roles I’ve ever done."

Filmed in just a little over a month, De Niro explained that “there was a kind of chaotic shooting where the camera was always moving around, this and that. It gave it a life that’s very important.” “It’s almost like theater,” Cooper said. “That house almost felt like we were doing theater in it. That scene where Tiffany comes in and does the whole parlay scene—almost the whole cast was there and it just had this immediate vibration, which is intoxicating for an actor. And all David’s characters in all of his movies are very dynamic, they have to deal with emotions that we can all relate to but are a little bit heightened.” 

Speaking to Pat’s socially jarring nature, Russell said, “I love how uncomfortable people are at the beginning of the movie. People say, ‘Oh Bradley Cooper, The Hangover. I’m uncomfortable. He’s a very scary character.  What’s he going to do next?’” But in watching the film, what proved so fascinating to me was how relatable everything and everyone feels. It hits on a guttural level that allows you to identify with the characters even at their worst, recognizing their faults and flaws as your own. Each dealing with their own anxieties and disorders, these characters are not sketches of a person scrapped together or extreme examples meant to teach a lesson. Rather, they are all simply people trying to deal with something beyond their grasp in the best way they can. It feels as if you are peering through a window on your neighbor, slightly frightened and enticed by the situation at hand, but knowing that when you return home, someone could be thinking the same thing watching you. And that’s where the genius of the writing comes into play. Russell’s dialogue never feels forced or contrived, and there’s immediacy with each word. “That is, as Frank Sinatra once said, the whole trick of the record to me,” Russell said. “You feel like you’re spying on people. And everybody has to trick themselves, when I’m writing I have to trick myself as a writer, you have trick yourself into being in a moment and that’s one of my favorite things about the film.”

Adding to the dimensionality of the characters is the fact that there are always consequences for their actions; no one is allowed to come away unscathed. The film also does a beautiful job of subtly portraying the point in illness, treatment, and recovery when one has the clarity and consciousness to recognize his or her behavior and faults but still does not have the power to control them and the shame, guilt, and self-hatred that comes along with it. “My goal as a filmmaker is really to grab people by the throat with a sustained intensity of emotion,” said Russell. That sentiment is never articulated in a sentimental way. “I think it’s a great thing when characters have a challenge,” Russell said. “Whether it’s someone who is bipolar or a drug addict; these people are challenging but make everybody around them rise or fall. It’s about second chances.”

New Restaurants Turn To Potential Patrons To Open Their Doors

When the Tribeca restaurant The Elevens opens its doors this fall, it won’t be all thanks to an angel investor like Bobby De Niro, a partner in nearby Nobu, or a deep-pocketed industry player like Jeffrey Chodorow. First–time restaurateur Scott Kester raised a significant chunk of the $1 million capital needed to open the 65-seat restaurant and bar by offering neighbors the chance to become permanent “seatholders,” a position which entitles them to priority reservations and lifelong discounts. The cost? $500. “We thought it would be a good idea to build a community at the same time as raising capital,” explains Kester, who attracted 150 seatholders and hopes to enlist a few hundred more before the opening.

The Elevens is just the latest example of a restaurant turning to its (future) regulars to open its doors. As banks reduce access to large-scale loans and traditional restaurant investors take fewer risks, restaurateurs are looking to their communities and to a growing swath of micro- financing sites to raise money. They do it through Kickstarter, using the crowd-funding site to raise money in exchange for promised gifts and rewards. And they do it through Kickstarter emulators like Credibles, a site founded early this year that allows supporters to pre-pay for meals and services; Small Knot, which facilitates small loans from supporters in exchange for perks like private party invites or cooking lessons; and Lucky Ant, which solicits funds from neighbors living in the same communities as the businesses. “I can’t imagine spending money on a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon or Dallas, Texas,” says Lucky Ant founder and Lower East Side resident Jonathan Moyal, “but I’d be happy to fund one here.”

While Kester promised his neighbors seats at the table, that’s small fries compared to what Eric Fenster, the owner of Berkeley, California restaurant Gather, promised before it opened in 2010. Fenster and his partners raised the $2 million to open their eco-friendly restaurant (located inside a “green” community center) by recruiting 62 friends and neighbors as investors. Each committed a minimum of $5,000 [Berkeley!]. Though the return on investment for the restaurant industry is notoriously dicey, the cost of entry made it easier for first–time investors to get involved, and it offered the restaurant a built-in customer base. To raise an extra $20,000 in working capital right before the opening, the owners sold discounted pre-sale gift certificates. All the fundraising paid off. Soon after it opened in 2010, the restaurant won Esquire’s Best New Restaurant award.

Many chefs and budding investors find restaurants the perfect place to align their capital with their values. Anthony Myint, whose award–winning San Francisco restaurants Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth both have formal partnerships with charities, included charitable donations as one of the perks during his successful $12,000 Kickstarter campaign for Commonwealth. He eventually raised about half the capital needed for the restaurant through the public sphere. Meanwhile, George Weld, the owner of Brooklyn breakfast favorite Egg, turned to Slow Money, a loosely organized group of investors focused on building sustainably minded businesses, when he started to raise money for his new restaurant Parish Hall. “Slow Money is more interested in making sure that we have a solid mission statement and actually do what we said we would do in terms of using local foods,” Weld explains. “It felt like a collaboration instead of trying to screw each other over.”