In all my years of movie viewing, there have been only two movies that I completely hated upon my first viewing: James Toback's FINGERS and David Lynch's BLUE VELVET. To me, the former was a 90-minute exercise in incompetence, with the director wallowing in material unfit for a sewer. The latter was indescribable - an eclectic assortment of unrelated images sewn together by momentary fits of brutal and sexual savagery. I never would have thought that my utter lack of understanding in film as a visual language would soon come to pass, and ultimately permit me to enjoy further viewings of these films which have become two of my all-time favorites.
FINGERS is one of the best movies you've more than likely never heard of. Though I found it to be initially revolting, I gave the film another chance and boy am I glad I did. Watching the film a second time revealed one of the most audacious and best films made in the 1970's. Harvey Keitel gives what to me is his best film performance. As Jimmy Angelleli (an Angel in Hell - nice symbolism!), he's an aspiring concert pianist moonlighting as a collector for his loan shark father, played wonderfully by the late Michael V. Gazzo. The predominantly New York City cast is made up primarily of great character actors from THE GODFATHER films, in particular Dominic Chianese (finally getting recognition on THE SOPRANOS) and Lenny Montana. Tony Sirico, who plays Pauly Walnuts on THE SOPRANOS, is terrific as a gangster who has a nasty scuffle in a stairwell with Keitel. Danny Aiello and Ed Marinaro are great as Sirico's henchmen, and Tanya Roberts(!) plays Sirico's girlfriend. Marian Seldes is excellent in her small role as Keitel's mother. Tom Signorelli is great as a convict sharing a cell with Keitel. Jim Brown rounds out the cast as Dreems, and Tisa Farrow plays his fey girlfriend.
Be warned, however - FINGERS is not for everyone. It is at times a brutal and depressing drama. However, you should give it a chance if you like MEAN STREETS and TAXI DRIVER, as these are the films that come to mind while watching FINGERS.
The film was shot by cinematographer Michael Chapman, a master of some great 1970's films like THE LAST DETAIL, TAXI DRIVER, and RAGING BULL. His camera mastery is brilliant here. This, like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, is a highly visceral New York movie.
James Toback deserves kudos for making an uncompromising film. For a directorial debut, it's a stunning achievement, and it's the sort of film that would never get made today. Superb.