Thursday, November 29, 2007


EYE STRAIN ALERT! This "post," like the previous one, cries out for "paragraph breaks," which are beyond our facility. Speaking of that former "post," Mark Osborne (one of the subjects of it) writes in response: "Kimb and I have been slogging through the Jerry Lewis movies available on Netflix and I have to say I guess I don't have any idea how to watch a Jerry Lewis movie. I just keep getting mad at him. I keep imagining what he thought was going to happen when he started rolling and how what actually happened must have seemed worth it for a few minutes. I also try to imagining an audience filled with people who paid money to see these films smiling and enjoying their night out, but I can't quite picture it. We keep trying though. Any tips would be appreciated. We tried The Errand Boy (yipes! the sock puppets!) The Patsy (the premise was kinda the same, was he trying to perfect the formula?), The Disorderly Orderely (turned it off) and The Nutty Professor (Kimb laughed a lot, she used to have a crush on Buddy Love as a kid). That's it so far." Thanks, Mark! I will do my best to address your concerns. First let me say that McNeil - my fellow Jerry Lewis fan - feels the exact same way as the Osbornes about THE DISORDERLY ORDERLY. He finds it unwatchable. Me, I like it. I know I'm wrong. I like it when Jerry Lewis makes faces and flails around and talks funny. In one way, it's that simple. As for advice about how to watch him, I'll take a stab at it, but maybe it is impossible to come to Jerry Lewis on purpose. Maybe it requires happenstance and timing that cannot be replicated in a laboratory environment - I mean both personal timing (Kimb getting a crush on Buddy Love when she was a kid) as well as an epochal gulf of transient cultural norms that has produced what Jonathan Rosenbaum calls America's "irrational denial that [Lewis] was all that popular to begin with." David Thomson on the same subject: "To live in America is to experience the native incredulity at Lewis being taken seriously. Few things are held against the whole of France more fiercely than French love of Lewis." And most Shakespearean scholars agree that Hamlet was referring to Jerry Lewis's declining popularity when he described "that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns." But I don't want to be fatalistic! So let's say that you should start with THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (too late for you, Mark, so this is general advice). Everyone who has a tiny bit of interest in American movie history should see that one, anyway. The scene near the end in which Professor Kelp can't stop himself from dancing at the student function... I could just run that on a loop and watch it all day. McNeil feels the same way about the scene in THE PATSY in which Lewis's character bombs onstage as a standup comic. I am more partial to the scene in which Stanley Belt (the "patsy" in question) lip-syncs a rock song on TV. But don't worry about THE PATSY. After THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, you may be excused from any further Lewis watching. But if you want to go forward of your own volition, I say try THE ERRAND BOY. Mark is right. The part with the sock puppet is just about unbearable. But this is a good test. Did you like the funny parts MORE than you hated the unfunny parts? If so, keep going. Maybe try a couple of the early pictures with Dean Martin. ARTISTS AND MODELS (which we watched with the Osbornes on the same visit when we went to see PINK FLAMINGOS; see the previous "post") has the bonus of featuring the adorable young Shirley MacClaine. But the number one thing you have to figure out is (I'll paraphrase myself) do you love the funny parts more than you hate the bad parts? If not, don't worry about it. JUST STOP WATCHING HIM! Well, another possible way "in" is to enjoy his fine late-career performances in films like Scorsese's THE KING OF COMEDY or Emir Kusturica's ARIZONA DREAM. The epilogue of the latter film, a touching, funny pas de deux with Johnny Depp, would make a good entry point, perhaps, for understanding the appeal of Jerry Lewis, even if you ultimately decide that you don't like him. I don't expect anyone to like him anymore! Not him OR my beloved Gilmore Girls! It's a free country! I guess one final way to watch Jerry Lewis is to appreciate failure of the grandest and maddest variety. When Thomson speaks of "matching the idiot with the idiotic American dream," he is referring - with manifest admiration and approval - to the Martin and Lewis film HOLLYWOOD OR BUST, but he may just as well have Lewis the man in mind. I mean, isn't any Jerry movie preferable, on some level, to the toothless proficiency of EVAN ALMIGHTY? See my deep thoughts on JACK THE GIANT KILLER vs. KEEPING THE FAITH, or better yet, the Robert Browning poem "Andrea del Sarto," which - like Hamlet - is based on the works of Jerry Lewis. (Pictured, Lauren Graham, star of EVAN ALMIGHTY and GILMORE GIRLS.)