Monday, August 21, 2017

Jerry Lewis remembered

The Bellboy (1960), Jerry Lewis's debut as a film director, a black and white tribute to the classics of comedy.

Dave Kehr has written for The New York Times an authoritative obituary on Jerry Lewis (1926-2017), the greatest genius of post-WWII comedy, an influence on Woody Allen, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, and countless others. In Finland Jerry Lewis was big among cinephiles and film-makers from Spede Pasanen to Peter von Bagh.

He was a loose cannon, and there was a hit-and-miss quality in his movies, the best of which include Artists and Models, Hollywood or Bust, Rock-a-Bye Baby, The Ladies' Man, The Nutty Professor, Who's Minding the Store?, The Disorderly Orderly, The Patsy, and The King of Comedy.

Lewis was influenced by Harpo Marx, Al Jolson, Stan Laurel, Charles Chaplin, Fanny Brice and Harry Ritz. He was a brilliant athlete, and his expressions and gestures had an alarmingly mercurial quality. There was a sense of danger, a courage in courting madness.

Lewis's films are key visions of pop culture and the consumer society. The lunatic antics of the rubber man could abruptly switch from the brilliant to the awful. But he had direct access to the wavelengths of the infant, the madman, and the dreamer. The contortions of his body were expressions of the contortions of the soul. His movies are caricatures of the self in the modern world. And he belonged to the very greatest comedians whose performances evoke a disturbing laughter at the human condition itself.

A wonderful critical biography: Shawn Levy: King of Comedy (1996).

Robert Benayoun's six part tv series Bonjour Mr. Lewis (1982) is an amazing introduction to the Jerry Lewis archives beyond his feature films.


Jerry Lewis was the comedian of the age of extremes.

He was born into the Great Depression. His first public performance was "Brother, Can You Spare Me a Dime?" at age 5.

He came of age during Holocaust and Hiroshima. His famously shelved film project is The Day the Clown Cried, about a clown whose task is to keep children laughing on their way to the gas chamber.

His breakthrough took place during Pax Americana, the period of the greatest economic miracles in history, the golden age of the consumer society, before we became aware of the limits of growth and the ecological catastrophe.

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