The telescope lens, from cinema vérité to amateur porn -- Brian De Palma’s joke, in its manifold aspects, roasts the counterculture’s naïveté regarding cinema as "truth 24 frames per second," he takes the camera himself and shows how it’s done. Robert De Niro’s introduction is a lesson in POV and reverse-shot, his purchase of peeping-tom paraphernalia is captured by a fellow voyeur, who’s just learning about zoom and focus. The neighbors across the street expand Rear Window’s self-reflexivity ("life on little screens"), a note from Keaton is adduced as the protagonist spies on a lonely gal (Jennifer Salt) and, having fallen asleep at the camera, leaps to her rescue in a dream. The seduction of the maiden for the homemade blue movie is a performance planned to the last minute, Salt is ready to pull down De Niro’s pants as soon as he arrives but he can’t deviate from his own meticulous scenario; the recorder dips and instead films the radical on the floor below (Gerrit Graham) painting his balls black and practing the "right-on!" salute, which doesn’t please smut producer Allen Garfield. A revue, a manifesto: Within such thick chunks of improv, De Palma lays out a remarkable array of stylistic strategies and ideas, which explode in the propagandistic "Be Black, Baby!" mini-masterpiece. The starting point might be the Socialist theatre of "sincerity and violence" in La Chinoise, the handheld perspective of shake-up theatrics finds a batch of white Village liberals shown what it’s like "to be black in America" by a guerilla troupe -- the audience is beaten and raped, "it makes you stop and think, really" one bloodied bourgeois raves afterwards. The pipe-puffing disguise the protagonist dons as a middle-class family man yields to dynamite in the washing machine, and to the Vietnam vet’s uniform for the final howdy to the motherland. De Niro’s Taxi Driver character is often seen as a direct successor, though the lacerating punchline leaves no doubt of its influence on The King of Comedy, laughter and terror mingled before a world of cameras. With Rutanya Alda.
--- Fernando F. Croce