A Stalker Clings to Love With Both Hands

I’m a huge fan of self-conscious acting choices such as the scene in Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry David casually cleans his glasses using a yamaka. Alternately, one of the lovely touches Sarah Silverman has added to her roles over the years takes place in her first appearance on the USA television comedy, Monk, as Marci Maven (yes, ass, I know Monk is not a very good show but I like it anyway). Newly obsessed with Adrian Monk as the world’s greatest detective, Marci abandons her previous fixation on actor who plays a tee vee detective in order to obsess over Mr. Monk. At midnight, she knocks on his door to let him know that she has created a website dedicated to celebrating his genius. The brilliant touch is that Marci uses both sets of knuckles while knocking. Her knocks come rapid fire as she hunches her shoulders and leans into the door; she is childish and animalistic. Even though it probably wasn’t, I like to imagine that this acting choice was an homage to the greatest stalker film of all time, Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy.

In the scene in question, Sandra Bernhard, playing Masha, marks her first intrusion into Jerry Langford’s (Jerry Lewis) life by assaulting him in his limo after he’s finished taping his show. Competing fans drag Jerry to safety and lock Bernhard in the limo as she screams “I’m not going to take… Jerry! No! No!” Both Bernhard’s hands pound at the window. Scorsese freeze frames as a flash photograph illuminates both Masha’s hands clutching the window, trapping the wild animal; fellow stalker, Rupert Pupkin played by Robert De Niro, peers inside the limo, past Masha towards the audience. Frank Sinatra’s obsessive “Rain or Shine” plays as the credits do a slow roll between Masha’s illuminated and outstretched hands.

While watching him demonstrate the beta-version of his online video chat/dating service, my friend (Sa)Adam and I were talking about the movie (or, rather, I was telling him about the movie). Over his web-cam, he condescended that women don’t stalk; stalkers are always men. I strongly objected. It was difficult for us to talk. We were using the video dating website he’s programming to chit chat. If I didn’t keep rating him above a “6” on a scale from 1-10 once a minute, he would be bumped from the screen. As succinctly as I could, I directed him to Bernhard’s performance in the movie. I explained that it could teach a person a lot about how differently people fantasize.

Take, for example, Rupert’s fantasies. They revolve entirely about performing his success in front of an audience. Every night he stages his triumph in front of a set of the Jerry Langford show, sometimes performing a monologue; other times acting out an interview and on-stage banter next to cardboard cut-outs of Jerry Lewis and Liza Minelli (cardboard Liza doesn’t fall off stage as easily as real life Liza). Since he believes in the American Dream where anyone can achieve success if they try hard enough, Rupert thinks that simply by wanting something badly enough he can actualize it. Given that his comedy is about his and his family’s inadequacies, his performance is a self-castration in front of a live studio audience.

Masha, on the other hand, comes off as one of Bernhard’s ‘performance art’ routines, totally unhinged and off-book. She’s the perfect actress to make this role her own, down to even the way she can seductively remove masking tape from Jerry Lewis’ lips, purse her own and blow him a kiss. I can believe that scriptwriter, Paul Zimmerman, did include the scene where Bernhard sings Billy Holiday’s “Come Rain or Come Shine,” but it’s very it’s very difficult for me to believe that Bernhard’s monologue — delivered across a candlelit dinner with Lewis at the other end, confined by masking tape — came from anyone’s mind other than her own:

I feel completely impulsive tonight. Anything could happen. I have so much to tell you. I don’t know where to start. I want to tell you everything about myself. Everything you don’t know. Do you like these glasses? Crystal. Beautiful. I bought them just for you. I don’t know. There’s something about them that remind me of you. Just the simplicity. But if you don’t like them. If there’s even an inkling that you have a doubt in your mind [she hurls her glass behind her. It shatters]. You know, sometimes during the day I’ll be doing the simplest things. I’ll be taking a bath and I’d say to myself, I wonder if Jerry’s taking a bath right now? Then I’d just hope, you know, that you’re not drowning or something. I just get really worried about you, you know, like something terrible’s going to happen. Then I just have these daydreams like I’m out with you at the golf course driving your cart. Just driving around. ‘Need a putter, Jer?’ you know. ‘Need an iron?’ I don’t even know how to play golf. I played with my parents once. My dad. But, I love you. I’ve never told my parents that I love them. Of course, they never told me that they loved me either, which was fine with me. But I love you. Want some wine? No? Okay. I’m not in the mood to drink either, though. But I’m sure in the mood to be alone with you. Why don’t we just clear off the table. I was thinking, why don’t we go upstairs, but that’s so predictable. Let’s just take everything off the table and do it right here. Of course that would blow your mind, wouldn’t it? It would blow my mind. I’ve never done anything like that before. I’ve never even had anyone over for dinner, let alone made love on the table. But somehow, I just want to do that. I just want to dance. Like, you know, put on some Shirelles. I wanna be black. [Laughs]. Wouldn’t that be insane? God, you know, I wish I was… You know what I wish I was tonight? I wish I was Tina Turner. Dancing to the room. Oooohhh Oooohhh [Laughs at herself].

Throughout the scene, Jerry sits silently, occasionally rolling his eyes. He never once laughs. Whereas Masha’s routine is outwardly similar to Rupert’s, he receives plenty of gratifying laughter which isn’t to say that he’s funnier. They both make reference to their abject family lives, however Masha doesn’t use comedy to only sadistically project hostility. The only clear thing about her routine is that she’s ambivalent; she’s of two minds about those she loves. Both Masha and Rupert have trapped their audience, but only Masha is explicit about it. Jerry is flat out told that he reminds her of her father; that even though she loves him, she fantasizes about him drowning or harm coming to him on a daily basis; that she’s willing to destroy prized possessions on the mere suspicion that what he’s thinking is that they’re tasteless. Jerry knows that this crazy bitch is auditioning and that in spite of her reverence for him, she also feels contempt. It makes her unpredictable and dangerous. In a way, she’s the true heir to his late-night spot as he also reveres the craft of comedy but feels contempt for his audience and his colleagues. That feeling, at least, is mutual. What makes her ‘edgy’ — edgier than either Jerry or Rupert — is that she integrates these mixed feelings into her routine. By doing so, she demonstrates that she understands Jerry’s own schtick inside and out.

Darian Leader, author of Why do Women Write More Letters Than They Post, takes up a psychoanalytic line that says women desire differently from men. Women, he argues, don’t have a cultural constant of Womanhood with which to identify, so they’re always trying to figure out how they’re supposed to act whereas it’s a lot clearer to men since you don’t exactly have to be a genius to get the basics of masculinity down (hint: start with a baseball cap). When they watch a couple pass by, women are not checking out either the woman or the man but rather how they interact. Leader defends the generalizing structure of his argument by saying that desire works along different axes of generalization:

‘I know you’ is probably the worst possible thing a man can say to a woman and the best possible thing a woman can say to a man. While most men like to be included in generalizations, many women don’t. This fact is well known to retailers: if you want to sell your coat to a man, you can tell him that everyone in the City or on Wall Street is wearing it, but if you want to sell it to a woman, it is better to say, on the contrary, that no one is wearing it… Even if men want to wear what everyone else in the City is wearing and women what no one else in the city is wearing, most men in fact end up failing to follow fashion while many women follow fashion but without necessarily wanting to.

Leader’s argument is based on Lacan’s logic tables that refer to sex and desire. Not-A this, Not-B that. They’re boring, but Leader has a way of making them accessible. In reference to the film, we can see that one of the extremely irritating things to Jerry about Masha (other than that he’s her prisoner) is that everything she says and does is meant to elicit audience participation. She’s a game-player. Nothing he says or does could possibly please her, so he remains stoic in the face of her hysteria. Her routine is all about toying with his perception of her, as if to say ‘You may think you know me, a spoiled Jewish princess, but I’m black inside’ or ‘I may love you, but see how I express it in torture.’ Every statement she makes is a question. Can he see the intricacies of her desire for him? Can he see how much bigger than his person — even his star power — this desire extends? Can he continually gauge their ever-shifting relation?

Even if he can’t, he’s suitably intimidated as you can see from this scene in the movie where Masha unsubtly follows him to his studio.


4 Responses to “A Stalker Clings to Love With Both Hands”

  1. Zed Says:

    Everybody’s got the right to be differentEven if at times they go to extremes …You do know that show, right? Another work about the different ways people fantasize.

  2. Victoria J. van Dijk Says:

    ‘You may think you know me, a spoiled Jewish princess, but I’m black inside’OMG–I’ve heard that one before. That’s just too, too familiar. Only that one converted to Judaism after some black people had pointed out to her, quite unambiguously, that she was, empathically, not black.Well, I tried to tell her.But that clip of Sandra B. running down the street after Jerry L. (which proves to my mind she’s crazy as no sane person would be obsessed with him) is one of the most frightening scenes I’ve ever seen. Given her ability to plow through a crowd of pedestrians, perhaps she should consider joining a woman’s semi-pro football team. (Really, some of my students–straight, pretty within their own cultural context, small, and femme–have done so!)You know, I think I might know the screenwriter–but never imagined he’d write something like this. I’ll check it out and get back to you if that’s the case.

  3. Victoria J. van Dijk Says:

    To clarify, I do know a screenwriter by that name, but he is not the screenwriter responsible for The King of Comedy. The latter died in 1993, and I saw the one I know last week so they can’t be the same person. . . .But truly, I appreciate the Liza link. Did you follow the link trajectory by clicking further to see the seven-year-old boy diva?? It’s a must see, but I’m always troubled when I see camp that I’m not sure is camp–or is one born a queen?

  4. darknessatnoon Says:

    I wholeheartedly recommend that boy diva link, but only if you have a strong stomach. Is camp nature or nurture? There’s a good novel by Cintra Wilson, Colors Insulting To Nature, that explores that question.

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