Thursday, November 5, 2015

Fingers (James Toback, 1978)

I'll get to the meat and potatoes this off-kilter slice of Soho-shot weirdness in a minute. I just want to give a quick tip to all those who want to avoid seeing Harvey Keitel's penis. When I saw that Fingers starred Harvey Keitel, I went ahead and assumed that his penis would make an appearance at some point or another. In light of this assumption, I decided to turn on the closed captions... you know, figuring that they might obscure Harvey Keitel's penis from view. And you know what? I think it might have worked. Now, granted, Harvey Keitel's penis could have remained hidden in the shadows (where it belongs) with or without the closed captions switched on, but I wasn't going to take any chances, as I've been forced to look at Harvey Keitel's penis in countless other movies. Just in case your version of this movie doesn't come with closed captions, I recommend looking away from the screen during the urologist scene, as the chances that Harvey Keitel's penis might show up in this scene are pretty high. I mean, I'm no doctor, but I think "urologist" literally means dick doctor in Latin. Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes, I play bass in a Portland-based punk band called Harvey Keitel's Penis. We've opened for PMS 84 (I have a major crush on the bass player) and The Sweaty Taints a couple of times over the past year and have been described as a cross between Smash Mouth and the  Dayglo Abortions. In other words, we're pretty awful.


Okay, that takes care of that. Now, let's talk a little about Fingers, shall we? First off, what I liked most about it was the fact no-one acts like a normal human being. It's true, I'm a sucker for films that shirk normalcy, but this one, written and directed by James Toback, shirks it more than I'm used to.


Hell, even Jim Brown, who plays a pimp named "Dreems," doesn't seem to be playing with a full deck. And it's got nothing to do with the fact that he's wearing a pink shirt either. There's just something about him that seems off.


As the former running back's scene with Harvey Keitel went along, this thought would repeatedly pop into my head: Why hasn't Jim Brown punched Harvey Keitel in the face yet? If I was Jim Brown, I would have punched Harvey Keitel in the face the moment I laid eyes on him. Though, to be fair, if I was Jim Brown, I would be punching people in the face left, right and center. But he doesn't... punch Harvey Keitel in the face. And this, as you might expect, vexed the living shit out of me.


Of course, I don't mind being vexed. However, some viewers might find these kind of unorthodox shenanigans* to be off-putting.


It's one thing to have characters behave strangely, but to have them do so in a mob movie is another story. Of course, it's not really a mob movie. Sure, half the cast is made up of actors who either appeared in The Godfather or would go on to star on The Sopranos, and the film takes place in New York City, but I don't know that many mob movies that feature lead characters who carry around a cassette player blasting songs by The Drifters, The Jamies and The Chiffons.


Mob debt collector by day, concert pianist also by day (he sleeps at night), Jimmy (Harvey Keitel) has two passions: Classical music and pop music from the 1950s and 1960s. Well, he three passions. The one's I just mentioned, and sex.


At first I thought that Jimmy preferred to have sex with women. But then I saw the way he eye-balled those guys at the bar while having lunch with Ben (Michael Gazzo), his shylock father. Is he gay? Or is he merely bi-curious? Who knows. I do know this, Ben's "cream" suit is blindingly yellow, his girlfriend (Georgette Mosbacher) is stacked, and he's got two jobs for his son.


The first job involves collecting four thousand clams from Luchino (Lenny Montana), a hulking pizzeria owner. Not that I sit around listening to 1960s pop music, but "Angel of the Morning" by Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts will never be same for me after seeing Jimmy pistol whip Luca Brasi in the kitchen of his pizza joint in front of his son as the song blares from his boombox.


The second job... Um, this job, it turns out, is going to be a little more complicated. Sure, it basically involves collecting money that is owed. But Patsy Riccamonza (Tony Sirico) is no pizza chef.


In the meantime, Jimmy tries to enlighten a fellow restaurant diner about music after he tells him to turn his stereo off while having lunch with his father. I know, who in their right mind would confront Harvey Keitel over something as trivial as loud music? But you've got to remember, this is New York City, and it's 1978. In other words, everyone is either mentally-ill or has a severe death wish.


Telling the irate diner: "This is the Jamies, man! 'Summertime, Summertime!' - the most musically inventive song of 1958!" doesn't seem to placate the situation, as a mild shoving match ensues.


His father backs him up, but he does question the logic of playing "Summertime, Summertime" in the middle of winter in the next scene.
 


The other key relationship, if you can call it that, at the center of the movie is the one between Jimmy and Carol (Tisa Farrow), a mysterious sculptress, who James Toback describes as having a "distracted luminosity." Personally, I would classify Carol's disposition more as having an aloof radiance. Nevertheless, she's a strange bird. However, since Jimmy is just as strange (he consoles distraught homeless women in his spare time), they're technically made for each other. The key word being "technically." Nothing in Fingers is straight-forward.
  


As he's trying to procure his pop's money from Riccamonza and penetrate Carol's [hopefully] diaphragm-free pussy (don't ask), Jimmy is agonizing over an upcoming audition at Carnegie Hall. While 1950s/1960s pop music plays a vital role in the film, Bach's Toccata in E minor (the piece he's scheduled to perform), it turns out, is the bane of Jimmy's existence.
  


Figuring that he's pretty much got the Bach piece down pat, he shifts his focus back to Riccamonza. Or, I should say, he shifts his focus to Tanya Roberts, Riccamonza's main squeeze. Tracking him down to a fancy hotel, Jimmy decides to... I'm at a loss for words here. I mean, how does one accurately describe the "sex scene" between Jimmy and Tanya Roberts? Oh, wait. I got it. The "sex scene" between Jimmy and Tanya Roberts in Fingers is one of the worst, most awkward "sex scenes" in movie history. In fact, it's so repellent, I don't even feel like extolling the skimpy virtues of Tanya's super-chic dusty rose bikini.


If you thought that was repellent, wait until you see Jim Brown knock two women's heads together (Three Stooges-style) in a later scene. You know what? I take that back. The sight of Jim Brown roughing up his "bitches" in a comical manner has nothing on the Jimmy-Tanya Roberts "sex scene." I mean, my God, that was some ugly ass shit. Even his pick up line, if you could call it that, made my skin crawl.


Just to let you know. While, yes, I'm currently using a ton of negative-sounding adjectives in correlation with this movie. This, believe it or not, is still a positive review. To put it another way, I loved this movie. Genital warts and all. Seriously, I think Harvey Keitel's character has genital warts. Since we don't get an eyeful of his cock and balls, an exact diagnosis is not forthcoming. At least not from me. And I think everyone should be thankful for that.


* I'm slowly reintroducing the word "shenanigans" back into my vocabulary (the movie Juno turned me off the word to such a degree, that I had it banned)


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