Saturday, December 17, 2011

Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis

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I recently gave up my cable tv subscription so I don't know when I'll ever see this, but there's a new two-hour documentary on Jerry Lewis airing tonight (December 17th) at 8 p.m. and at midnight on Encore. The network is also dedicating much of today’s afternoon programming to a Jerry Lewis marathon, broadcasting films including The Bellboy starting at 1:50 p.m. I imagine the documentary will be shown again in the future, given the name of the channel.

It's gotten mixed reviews from newspapers, but looks like a must-see for the student of physical comedy. As the Los Angeles Times review said,  "It isn't particularly incisive or intimate, but it has lots of good things to show you, at least a few of which, unless you are very dour, should also make you laugh."

Here's a preview:

A couple of quotes from a New York Times article on the documentary:

“Jerry went back to the silent era and he brought visual sight gags back to the American movie theaters,” says Mr. Spielberg, who once took a class taught by Mr. Lewis at the University of Southern California. “They weren’t doing that for a long time.”

This physical comedy is beautifully illustrated by a scene from “The Patsy” (1964), in which Mr. Lewis’s character knocks over an assortment of expensive-looking vases and catches each one just before it hits the floor. Mr. Lewis says he broke hundreds of vases in the process of rehearsing and shooting the scene.

“He’s much closer to Buster Keaton than a Charlie Chaplin,” Mr. Tarantino says, “in so far as actually taking the film medium and trying to get laughs by the way you shot stuff, by the art form itself, not just the pratfalls.”

• The Encore web page for the documentary is here.
• A (negative) Washington Post review of the documentary is here.
• A (positive) review from the Cleveland Plain Dealer is here.
• A 2-hour biopic of Lewis from the Biography cable channel is viewable online here.
• My two earlier posts on Jerry Lewis are here.

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