Fingers (1978)

“I can’t seem to relax; my hands just don’t work right.”

Poster

Synopsis:
An aspiring classical pianist (Harvey Keitel) in New York City tries to help his loan shark father (Michael V. Gazzo) collect on some outstanding gambling debts; meanwhile, he futilely pursues an aloof, spacey artist (Tisa Farrow).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
This “brutal, fascinating character piece” — writer/director James Toback‘s directorial debut — received mixed reviews upon its release, “impress[ing] some critics” and “antagoniz[ing] others”. Peary falls squarely in the former camp, lauding Fingers as “exhilarating movie-making”, and claiming that it “hits no false notes” — but I’m not quite in agreement. While it’s true that “every character and every scene is unusual”, the film as a whole meanders self-indulgently; Keitel’s pursuit of artist Tisa Farrow — despite being thematically in keeping with the character’s desperate search for love/sex — is particularly annoying and uninteresting.

With that said, Fingers is primarily known for featuring a powerhouse early performance by Keitel — and, in this respect, it doesn’t disappoint. Keitel’s Jimmy Fingers is complex and neurotic, yet — despite his “schizophrenic” tendencies (as Peary puts it, he’s a “nice guy who can be insanely violent”) — oddly likeable. His compulsion to carry a tape recorder with him everywhere he goes (before the start of the ’80s boombox craze) is a particularly potent symbol of both his obsessive nature and his lack of social awareness — he’s not trying to annoy the people around him; he simply never considers the fact that they may not want to listen to his favorite tunes.

To that end, it should be noted that the music in Fingers is wonderfully effective — I can’t think offhand of another film which so successfully relies on a “natural” soundtrack; after watching this movie, chances are that you will never be able to hear The Jamies’ “Summertime, Summertime” again without picturing Jimmy Fingers and his “music box”…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Harvey Keitel as Jimmy Fingers
    Keitel
  • Good use of New York locales
    New York
  • A fine “natural” soundtrack (a mix of Jimmy’s beautiful piano playing, and the ’50s pop tunes blaring out of his “music box”)
    Piano

Must See?
Yes, but only for Keitel’s performance.

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One Response to “Fingers (1978)”

  1. I know this film has its loyal, cult ff fans but, seeing it again, I can’t jump on that bandwagon. Keitel’s convincing portrait of a conflicted, sensitive soul notwithstanding, ‘Fingers’ is ultimately an empty, unsatisfying mess of a movie and not a must-see.

    It has something of a resemblance to ‘Taxi Driver’ – photographed two years earlier by ‘Fingers’ DP Michael Chapman, yet ‘Fingers’ has little of that film’s style. And less of that film’s point.

    Fourteen years later, Keitel would, in a way, return to this film’s territory with his ‘go for baroque’ performance in ‘Bad Lieutenant’. As distasteful as that film is, I’d still call it must-see, if only for Keitel’s performance. I can’t make that claim here.

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