Friday, May 30, 2008

STUPID NETFLIX! (PULLING FROM THE VHS STACKS) : FINGERS (1978)

Off the top of my head, I can't think of a living filmmaker whose work runs more personal than that of James Toback's. Maybe Abel Ferrara. And maybe it's the NYC in both of these men that brought their ruthless self-examination to the fore. What's so special about these two unheralded auteurs is that they're not exhibitionists. They don't profit from their souls laid bare. In fact, commercially, they've suffered.

Yes, these are times where YouTube confessions can get you instant celebrity ... but Catholic guilt, oedipal complexes, and liberal Manhattanite chauvinism, aren't sentiments you can exactly get across in a 4 minute tease video.
Harvey Keitel plays Jimmy Fingers, a piano virtuoso and sharp-tongued lady killer. He's a learned loner, walking the streets to his own beat... literally. Carrying a tape player like a woman holds a purse, Jimmy blares The Shirelles, Merrilee Rush, The Jamies, and Inez & Charlie Fox whether in restaurant, park, or bathroom. His father runs numbers in Brooklyn that he must to collect on, and his mother's in a mental hospital. She's an artist. She taught him piano. Jimmy exists somewhere between these two dichotomies: A street tough that plays Bach; a hand gun concealer that gets auditions at Carnegie Hall.


It's that completely original - and always convincing - freewheeling spirit that Toback places in the hearts of all his male leads. Robert Downey Jr. in The Pick-Up Artist and Two Girls and a Guy. Adrian Grenier in Harvard Man. Fred Weller in When Will I Be Loved. Himself in Black & White. And of course Harvey Keitel in Fingers. They are him. He is them. High-minded sex fiends and drunken louts. Sensitive appeasers and generous brutes. Family is all and love is essential. In a perfect world James Toback would be granted time-capsule inclusion to represent the 20th century American melting-pot artistic male.

Fingers is a slow burner. The bookended piano scenes will raise you up and knock you down. This is quick cinema that matches its social mores line by line with easy economy like Ernst Lubitch did the European upper-classes in the 30's and 40's. For a full meal, Fingers would make a great chaser for Scorcese's Mean Streets and an even better prelude to his underrated King of Comedy. But be sure and look for it on DVD... if possible. I'm sure lots is lost on the VHS print. Either way, its a film you'll wanna place under your pillow, afterwards, for some sleepytime comfort.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you haven't seen it yet, you need to see the French remake, The Beat That My Heart Skipped. It's awesome.

-kurt

Fox said...

It's funny cuz when I did a Google Image search for *Fingers*, I kept getting stills from *The Beat That My Heart Skipped*.

I've been meaning to see it based on your previous recommendations - and its source material - but I guess I kinda forgot about it.

It shall be done!

Victor said...

I concur with Kurtis.

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