James Toback is one of the "crazy" directors. Like Abel Ferrara or Oliver Stone, the subject matter of his films is going to be unpredictable, the film's inner workings are often going to test sense, and you are going to hear wild stories from the set. I don't know, maybe all directors are nuts, maybe they have to be to do the job, but only a select few though few have achieved the depths of Tony Kaye.
Toback was a Harvard graduate, a best friend of Jim Brown (about whom he wrote a book), and a number of other things before he turned to writing screenplays. His first The Gambler seemed to "make" him, and he ended up shooting his original screenplay, Fingers in 1978 for the perfume company Brut, which wanted to go into the film biz.
Fingers recounts a few days in the life of James or Jimmy Angellelli (Harvey Keitel in one of his first leading roles), a half-Italian, half-Jewish New Yorker who, in a strange homage to films past about boxing violinists—a genre parodied in Movie Movie—aspires to be a concert pianist but who passes the days working as a collector for his gangster father (Michael V. Gazzo). James meets a girl on the street who was listening to him play the piano, and he tries to form a relationship with her. But Carol (Tisa Farrow), a sculptor, is involved with a mysterious black club owner named Dreems (Jim Brown). After a failed audition, followed by a visit to his institutionalized mother (in a scene out of The Conformist), he encounters Carol again but she humiliates him by preferring Dreems. Finally, after his own father is killed because of a gangland dispute, James kills the man who had his father offed. When last we see him, James is nude before us, sitting behind his piano in his apartment.
It's significant that the movie ends where it begins, but with James naked, for in the course of the movie he is stripped of all his protections. He is exposed as a failed musician, as a man Oedipally connected to his mother, and as a repressed homosexual (according to Toback, who indicates on the audio track that Jimmy is in search of his sexual identity). Toback inserted several references to the Sophocles play. It's a fascinating film for a number of reasons. One of them is that Toback is crazy and tends to pile on everything that is in his mind. Scenes often don't work, but they aren't there without reason. Also, it's another one of those significant but minor '70s films that seem so much better than the movies being made today. Among the actors who pop up here in early performances are Danny Aeillo, the luscious Tanya Roberts (whose scene became a cult moment among movie producers), Ed Marinaro (football player turned Hill Street Blues star), Also in the film are Georgette Muir who under her married named Mosbacher, became a prominent socialite, two Godfather actors (Lenny Montana and Dominic Chianese), and two Sopranos characters (Anthony Sirico and Chianese again). But like Ferrara's films, they required that you really bury yourself in the narrative and the visuals, regardless of how crazy they are.
VIDEO: Warner Home Video has done an appropriate job with Fingers. There aren't too many extras—just enough— and the transfer is excellent. The wide screen (1:85:1 The disc is packed with extras. The single-sided, dual layered disc offers a wide screen transfer (1.85:1) transfer, enhanced for widescreen televisions, enhances Michael Chapman's excellent photography.
SOUND: The adequate Dolby Digital mono track comes in both English and French. One wishes that they had set down to refashion the track, given that music plays such a large part in the film, but no matter. Subtitles come in English and French.
MENUS:The static, musical menu offers 23 chapter scene selection for the 89 minute movie.
EXTRAS: The biggest supplement on the disc for Fingers us the audio commentary track by director Toback. He goes into a lot of detail about his background, his friendship with Jim Brown and how he directed him on the set, about the various actors who pop up, and the thematic elements and visual cues he worked how on getting into the film despite the low budget. Toback is a chatty guy and knows a lot. He also reveals the key role that Cary Grant, of all people, played in the making of the film. Other supplements include a very, very brief cast and crew list, the three minute trailer, and Fingers: A Conversation about Independent Film a short "conversation" between Toback and Keitel about the making of the film (5:48), with amusing anecdotes about what it's like to make a movie for a perfume manufacturer.