Apr 20, 2011


 In the 1978 film Fingers directed by James Toback - a young man named Jimmy Fingers (played by a youthful Harvey Keitel) – who is quick with both his fingers and mouth - struggles to maintain his split loyalties and his split personality. The unfortunate American son of a Guido loan shark and a typically nagging Jewish mother; Fingers is torn between a unpredictable life of petty crime and his desire to become a professional pianist. To help keep his sanity at equilibrium - Finger incessantly blasts pop songs like “Summertime, Summertime” by the Jamies and “Angel of the Morning” by Merrilee Rush on a cheap portable radio that he carries at all times – ultimately annoying random citizens while traveling on foot around Manhattan. Despite his sensitive intuitiveness for masterfully playing the piano, Fingers has a barbarian-like knack for starting fights that could easily be avoided. Fingers also suffers from sexual frustration – as he is unable to assert himself with the WASP girl he wholeheartedly fancies, yet has no problem forcing himself upon a whorish lady that he doesn’t even know. From beginning to ending: Fingers is a wild, yet tragic roller-coaster ride following a young man who came out of his mother’s womb as a ticking time-bomb; set to explode as he ungracefully becomes of age in early adulthood. 

For most of his filmmaking career, NYC auteur Martin Scorsese has borrowed Kenneth Anger’s occult use of pop music as an ingenius tool to manipulate the emotions of the unsuspecting viewer. In Fingers, James Toback also utilizes this Anger-esque hypnotic musical tool in a most imperative manner for setting the mood and intense tone of the film. It is apparent from the beginning of the film that Jimmy Fingers is an unstable character who seems rather hopelessly confused, yet at the same time; vicious and dangerous. To control his mood, Fingers repetitively listens to the same repugnant pop songs over and over again – to the point where it becomes unintentionally humorous from the viewer's perspective. Anytime a random citizen expresses their annoyance to Fingers’ public broadcasted radio; he unthinkingly lashes out - sometimes going as far as to physically assault them. Despite being a potential Manhattan Felix Mendelssohn; Fingers has developed the skills of a mafia brute from the streetwise teachings of his boastful and belligerent Sicilian-American loan shark father. Fingers has indubitably inherited his musical talents from his Levite mother, yet seems to favor simple melodic pop songs. If one wanted to make an excellent case against miscegenation; Jimmy Fingers would make for a perfect example.

 A certain lady who reads Soiled Sinema mentioned that James Toback makes: “Jewish art porn.” Although I can agree with that to a certain degree; Fingers is somewhat insulting to God’s chosen man. I think most people will agree that Guidos are notorious pussy hustlers who have no problems obtaining ladies, yet half-Guido Fingers is lacking in the mackdaddy department, thus taking after his unassertive Judaic background; at least as far as romance goes. Despite his numerous attempts at bedding a pretentious artsy broad that he is obsessively fond of (even secretly spying on her at a careful distance), Fingers has a problem enticing and sexually spellbinding this loose lady. Towards the end of the film, Jimmy Fingers makes the mistake of following his love interest to her alpha-negro boyfriend’s pad. Eventually, Fingers is embarrassed to learn that – not only is his would-be girlfriend obviously enamored by the black buck woman-beater, but she also falls helplessly into his muscle bound shoulders for security. In the beginning of Fingers, it is subtlety hinted that Jimmy Fingers has homosexual tendencies – as he passes glances at an effeminate bartender. Ironically, despite his troubles with the ladies – Jimmy is an excellent street fighter who has no problem intimidating (and in some cases obliterating) men twice his size. It is no exaggeration from me to say that Fingers includes one of the greatest fight scenes ever committed to gritty celluloid. In the fight scene, Fingers squeezes a man’s testicles to point of knocking out his greaseball opponent. I believe this is the first film that I have ever seen a film where a man literally busts a Guido's balls, yet it is a very common weapon used when men fight in such a brutal manner. 

I must admit that I was surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoyed Fingers – as I expected the film to be another generic 1970s “gritty streets” picture. Although by no means an expertly crafted masterpiece; Fingers is a highly entertaining and shocking portrait of a everyday street-smart schizoid. Unlike silly films like A Beautiful Mind (2001) directed by Ron Howard, Fingers takes a realistic and typical approach to a man in the early stages of schizophrenia. It is more than likely that the majority of lower-middleclass individuals (from the 1970s) who suffered from schizophrenia were never diagnosed as such. That being said, one should not expect Fingers to be a sentimental portrait of a misunderstood genius suffering from a debilitating mental disorder. Fingers is a borderline exploitation flick that succeeds best in entertaining the viewer in a fantastically amoral fashion. Personally, I never felt sorry for Jimmy Fingers, but he did seem like someone who would be cool to hang out with. If Martin Scorsese and Abel Ferrara co-directed a film together in the late 1970s, I have a feeling that it would resemble Fingers. At the very least, one will have an entertaining time watching the fascinating Jimmy Fingers manhandle deadbeats – as well as embarrassingly failing to nail certain females that he admires. Fingers is just another example of why I consider Harvey Keitel to be one of the most interesting and strangely charismatic actors of his time.  In 2005, Fingers was remade as The Beat That My Heart Skipped directed by French filmmaker Jacques Audiard.

-Ty E

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