Thursday, September 8, 2011

The King of Comedy?

There was a Jerry Lewis marathon on Monday past (5 September 2011) on Antenna TV, one of the over the air retro channels that has hit the airwaves since the advent of digital television. I didn't really watch any of the films--Don't Raise the Bridge Lower the River, The Big Mouth, Three on a Couch, Hook, Line, and Sinker--that Antenna TV was showing as part of its marathon, presumably as a tie in to the MDA, Muscular Dystrophy Labour Day, Telethon, that Lewis presided over between 1966 and this year, 2011--in full though I did catch bits and pieces out of the corner of my eyes and ears. I have never really been a Jerry Lewis fan. His films, to me, have always seemed, like the Star Wars saga of George Lucas, who, by the way, apparently took a film class with Lewis at USC, as did Steven Spielberg, too juvenile for me. I do, however, have an appreciation for Lewis just as I have an appreciation for but not a devotion to Lewis's cinematic mentor Frank Tashlin. I appreciate, like many critics worldwide, Lewis's directorial skills particularly with respect to mise-en-scene, the magnificent almost Brectian set in The Ladies Man, for instance, and I do think that there is something to the notion, a notion proffered by several French and American critics, that Lewis, like Tashlim, is reflective of, a mirror to, American schizophrenia something reflected in the multiple characters Lewis often plays in his films and the American extreme as reflected in the extremes of Lewis's very American multiple characters.

It is really another aspect of the cult or anti-cult of Jerry Lewis that fascinates me. Whenever I think, for some reason, of Jerry Lewis I can't but help think about the French, or at least some French critics, devotion to the work of Jerry Lewis and I can't help but think about how much Americans, well some Americans, criticise the French and generalise this Lewis devotion to the French public in general, something that may tell us something about the francophobia present in contemporary American culture. I actually find this American criticism of the French praise for Lewis odd and hypocritical for in order to damn French critics for their Lewismania Americans have to forget (short memory syndrome) that it was US studios who made Lewis films for fun and mostly for profit, that it was the US who awarded Lewis a Golden Apple Award (1954), an American Comedy Award (1997), and a prime time Emmy (2005), that it was the US comedy club, film going, and TV watching American public who made Jerry Lewis one of the stars in the Hollywood firmament, and that it was the US public who tuned into and gave money to Jerry for Jerry's kids every Labour Day for some forty plus years.

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