Portrait of the artist as a young thug. James Toback finds his ideal stand-in in Harvey Keitel, sort of a Manhattanite Raskolnikov (or Van Gogh, if you prefer) decked out in leather jackets, ascots and a Russian monkís haircut. He tears passionately into Bachís Partita No. 4 at his home, the slowly moving camera takes in the curve of the piano to reveal the inscrutable muse (Tisa Farrow) outside the window, momentarily enraptured. The hands that make music also brutally take down a mountainous pizzeria owner who owes money, his loan-shark papa (Michael V. Gazzo) beams a proud smile; another debtor isnít easily persuaded, so Keitel finds the manís mistress (Tanya Roberts) in the toilet and declares his love for her pussy. Toback plays with symbols promiscuously -- the brooderís subconscious is a tape recorder forever playing Ď60s pop bubblegum tunes, there are rectal exams and discarded diaphragms, the mother (Marian Seldes) demands a kiss on the lips from the vile virtuoso. He penetrates and is penetrated, masters the sonata by himself but comes undone before the maestro at Carnegie Hall. His nemesis is an ebony column of muscle (Jim Brown), whose machismo turns a lesbian kiss into a bloody headbutt -- Farrow is enthralled by this id, Keitel loses her the way he had first seduced her, to the tune of "Mockingbird." When a raging psyche is trapped inside a stalled elevator or paces in a darkened room, you have a vision closer to Fists in the Pocket than to Taxi Driver (and a tracking shot through autumn-orange Central Park supplies a richer evocation than most of Allenís Manhattan vistas the following year). Toback imagines himself as a pathological fiend heading toward a baptism of gore, music canít soothe the beast: If this is Narcissusís pond, itís full of acid ("Thatís not a heroic fuck, thatís a dumb fuck"). Cinematography by Michael Chapman. With Ed Marinaro, Georgette Muir, Danny Aiello, and Tony Sirico.
--- Fernando F. Croce