WEIRDLAND

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Jerry Lewis: The Nutty Filmmaker

Sixty years ago, in the summer of 1957, Jerry Lewis’s The Delicate Delinquent debuted as the first film released after his contentious split with Dean Martin. Directed by Don McGuire (co-writer of the previous Martin & Lewis comedy Artists and Models, directed by Frank Tashlin in 1955), it’s an often overlooked film in Jerry Lewis’s career which needs to be fairly reevaluated to properly understand the evolution of the King of Comedy.

Lewis’s solo debut film underscores the redemptive individualistic values that will constitute an essential aspect of his later auteur vision in the 1960s. Raymond Durgnat (The Crazy Mirror: Hollywood Comedy and the American Image, 1970) cites two main themes in Lewis’s films, both of which manifest in The Delicate Delinquent: “Jerry’s desperate attempts to live up to his own ideal of benevolent toughness, and his equally desperate search to be worthy of—and be accepted by—a loving world.”

Embracing his new sentimentalized image, the next year Lewis starred in two films directed by his mentor Frank Tashlin: Rock-a-Bye Baby and The Geisha Boy (1958). An emotionally binary pattern emerges in these romantic comedies. In Rock-a-Bye Baby Clayton Poole (Lewis) feels an unrequited love for sex-symbol Carla Naples (Marilyn Maxwell) while Carla’s more down-to-earth sister Sandy (Connie Stevens) tries to seduce him into normalcy. The same dichotomy is apparent in his last collaboration with Tashlin, The Disorderly Orderly (1964), where Jerome Littlefield (Lewis)—an over-empathetic orderly working at the Whitestone Sanatorium—feels torn between blonde suicidal patient Susan (Susan Oliver) and plain nurse Julie (Karen Sharpe).

Although Lewis’s diverse cinematic personas show a reluctance to grow up or even to accept the painful reality of adult relationships, usually these characters—no matter how clumsy or asocial—make the right (tangentially mature) choice in the end. Despite his abrasive schtick, there is sentimental vulnerability at the core of the Lewisian hero, very unusual for the 1950s—the height of his popularity in America.

The favorable acclaim that Lewis’s zany persona received during the 1960s by French academics, in comparison to an increasingly hostile response by their American counterparts, made Jerry Lewis the director sour and paranoid. Dana Polan noted in Being And Nuttiness (1984) that for the French people Lewis’s films “appear to combine the contradictory sides of America.” Also, the hysterical component of his humor was more easily accepted by European audiences who channeled through Lewis’s persona a critical vision of America.

In Lewis’s films we usually find a series of disconnected sketches unrelated to the main narrative. His longue durée gags became more destructured and surreal, especially in The Patsy (1964), my personal favorite next to The Nutty Professor (1963). The central theme in both films is a sublimated fear of becoming a malfunctioning automaton incapable of belonging. The transformation of Julius Kelp into Buddy Love is not only prodigious, Lewis—through Stella Purdy’s astonished eyes—makes the audience realize that unadulterated intellect is indeed sexy. However, as Lewis’s biographer Shawn Levy wrote: “America took The Nutty Professor for a fairy tale, not a confession.”

“Jerry Lewis was the most profoundly creative comedian of his generation,” asserts Shawn Levy in his exhaustive biography King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis (1997): “Along with the dissolution of the national consensus, came the marginalization of the Court Jester of Camelot. Jerry’s reflection of the national soul has been his blessing and his curse.” After detailing Lewis’s health ailments and professional disintegration during the 1970s, Levy concludes that his fragmented personality and mercurial temperament rendered Lewis at times unreachable even by those dearest to him.

Each year since 1954, Paramount had released a Jerry Lewis picture during the summer and another one at Christmas. Since Visit to a Small Planet was released in April 1960, Lewis had only a couple of months to prepare his first self-directed film (The Bellboy), which opened in July, and later Cinderfella premiered in December of that year. During the filming of The Bellboy, Lewis came upon the idea of mounting a small video camera beneath the regular film camera and connecting it to a closed circuit monitor, thus inventing the original “video assist.”

Cinderfella (1960) is a modern gender-reversed take on Cinderella, and Jerry Lewis’s most appropriate film for the Christmas season. The supporting cast (Ed Wynn, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Judith Anderson) perform around Fella (Lewis) like fairy-tale characters. The staircase dance scene (which caused Lewis’s collapse on the set after consecutive takes) is a magical moment where Lewis’s unexpected coordination and elegance transcend his chronic goofiness. His habitual spastic movements suddenly become graceful steps in search of his Charming Princess.

An almost ethereal attraction between Fella and the Princess is somehow similar to that of Herbert and Fay’s rapport in The Ladies’ Man (seemingly inspired by Lewis’s first crush Lonnie Brown). The same romantic deference is found in the relationship between Stanley (Lewis) and Ellen (Ina Balin) in The Patsy (1964), accentuated in the flashback scene happening at the prom dance ball.

By paying homage to Frank Tashlin’s use of the “clever gag” and enhancing it with deconstructive purpose, The Patsy actually is key to appreciating Jerry Lewis’s ambivalence towards his Hollywood career. Part of his deconstructivist game was rooted in his hidden sex appeal, since Lewis was a sex symbol beneath his constructed misfit façade. As Levy writes of The Patsy: “this was a mature man coming to grips with the fact that his career was built on ephemera and boosted by liars. It’s no wonder the film’s box office was among the softest yet for a Jerry Lewis picture.”

In her essay “A Look at Jerry Lewis: Comic Theory from a Feminist Perspective” (1993) Joanna E. Rapf identified Lewis as an “involuntary feminist” by analyzing of the roles of several female characters in Lewis’s comedies. In The Errand Boy (1961), filmed the same year as The Ladies Man, Magnolia the Ostrich—a female puppet—assures Morty (Lewis): “You believed what you liked,” broadening the scope of his imagination whilst projecting a romantic fantasy.

In Three on a Couch (1966), each of the three target women presents a challenge to Christopher Pride (Lewis) to adapt himself to become their respective male ideals. Three on a Couch is thematically the inverse of The Nutty Professor—here the protagonist (an atypical Lewis figure) is self-assured and beyond successful. “I’m just completely secure,” Chris tells Elizabeth (Janet Leigh), but instead of surpassing his limitations by ingesting a lab potion (The Nutty Professor), Chris is compelled to reinvent himself in more grotesque forms. “In that deception, it was survival,” Jerry Lewis affirmed of this strange story he co-wrote with Sam Taylor.

Cracking Up (1983) was the last film Lewis directed. Shot in Los Angeles, it featured a collection of bizarre sketches—full of non-PC humor—about the world of psychiatrists. Warner wanted to test the film before exhibiting it theatrically. On December 20, 1983, he felt a pain in his chest while editing the film. “I’m having a heart attack,” he cried to SanDee (his second wife), who drove him to Desert Springs Hospital. Jerry Lewis’s heart stopped beating and he was declared briefly clinically dead. He spent the Christmas holidays recovering in the hospital. “I had devastating nightmares,” Lewis recalled: “The tears poured like a faucet.” In January 1984, weeks after surgery, he attended a sneak preview of Cracking Up that went badly: Warner Brothers declared the film unreleasable, determining to premiere it only on cable.

In the wake of the 60th anniversary of Jerry Lewis’s first solo film, it’s time to commemorate the oeuvre of a giant of humor by revisiting some of his neglected gems (The Delicate Delinquent, The Bellboy, The Errand Boy), masterpieces (The Ladies’ Man, The Nutty Professor, The Patsy) and minor classics (Cinderfella, The Disorderly Orderly, Three on a Couch, Cracking Up). For those nostalgic for Martin & Lewis I recommend my favorites: That’s My Boy, The Stooge, Artists and Models, and Hollywood or Bust.

Published previously as Jerry Lewis: The Nutty Filmmaker on Blogcritics.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Jerry Lewis: a wild poet of liberation

Film historian Leonard Maltin notes in his book The Great Movie Comedians that Jerry Lewis almost single-handedly carried the banner of film comedy throughout the ’60s, as most of his colleagues migrated to television. As writer, producer, and director, Lewis wanted to make a statement about the plight of the “little guy.” Both caustically irreverent and keenly sentimental, Lewis was also a radical democrat whose conception of the audience was as total as his identification with the art of filmmaking: he understood the lifelong reproached child, the inner free person cowering in fear and cringing with embarrassment. The terrors that he unleashed upon the haughty and the famous and the pure exuberance that he unleashed in moments of secret abandon, were acts of collective liberation. The French were right: Lewis was a wild poet of liberation, one of the most original, inventive, and, yes, profound directors of the time. In his films of the nineteen-sixties, he put himself through a wide range of sentimental triumphs, using technical devices onscreen and off with a gleeful audacity; he was also sentimental enough about childhood that he hoped to spare actual children the coarseness of life that he had experienced. Source: www.newyorker.com


CBS' biopic Martin & Lewis (2002) narrates the story of how Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis came to be a professional act in 1946 when Lewis decided to act as an incompetent waiter during one of Martin's songs at Atlantic City's 500 Club and how the audience loved their shtick. Lewis is also the one who cries in the arms of wife Patti (Sarah Manninen) and who dies inside every time his vaudevillian father Danny (Steve Brinder) refuses to acknowledge his comedic gifts. Over the years Lewis and Martin become close as brothers, with Jerry seeking the approval from Dean he never got from his father, but over time issues start to occur as Dean, being pressured by his second wife Jeanne, becomes tired of being Jerry's stooge. 

We see the destruction of the partnership which pretty much puts the blame on Dean's wife Jeanne who comes across as poisoning Dean with her moaning about Jerry getting all the praise and that Dean could be a bigger star going solo. Lewis’ zany act isn’t all that different from Andy Kaufman’s play-along-to-records shtick 30 years later, while Martin was a Crosby-esque crooner several notches below Sinatra. The more ensconced the two become in Hollywood — this is told by having movie posters flash quickly across the screen — the more they come to despise each other. Final curtain is on the set of “Three Ring Circus” in Phoenix in 1954 as Lewis has come to dominate their movies together; a year later, they do their final performance at New York’s Copacabana. Source: variety.com

Cognitive and emotional demands of black humour processing: the role of intelligence, aggressiveness and mood. The most surprising result is that subjects who show the highest values with respect to black humour preference and comprehension show high values with respect to intelligence, have higher education levels and show lowest values regarding mood disturbance and aggression. On the other hand, subjects who show average verbal and nonverbal intelligence scores as well as high mood disturbance and high aggressiveness show the lowest values with respect to comprehension and preference of black humour. Previous studies suggested that aggressive mood leads to the preference of aggressive humour. Therefore, it would not have been a surprise for this study to show that subjects who enjoy reading cartoons dealing with nasty or morbid contents also show high levels of aggression. Quite surprisingly, it could be shown that subjects who present high levels of aggressiveness directed against others are most likely to dislike black humour and show lower values with respect to black humour comprehension than subjects with low aggression values. Furthermore, it could be shown that subjects who are in a bad mood are most likely to dislike black humour and show lower values with respect to black humour comprehension than subjects who show low mood disturbance. These results support studies which show that subjective humour response is influenced by pre-existing mood as well as the notion that bad mood impairs the involvement in humour rather than facilitating the appreciation of aggressive humour. Also, preference for sick humour is related to the ability to treat nasty contents as playful fiction. 

The role of intelligence in humour processing was recently investigated by Vrticka and colleagues (2013) in the light of the incongruity-resolution model. They could show that in childhood and adolescence higher intelligence supports the detection of incongruities in a verbal utterance as well as the successful reinterpretation of these incongruities so as to get the joke. Furthermore, they could show that higher intelligence in this age-span is associated with stronger activity in brain areas involved in humour processing. Given the results of the current study, it can be hypothesized that in adulthood intelligence still strongly influences this two-stage problem-solving process with respect to humour processing. Whilst a positive association between black humour processing and intelligence can be shown, aggressiveness and bad mood apparently lead to decreased levels of pleasure when dealing with black humour. Black humour processing is seemingly a complex information-processing task that depends on cognitive and emotional aspects. It can be hypothesized that these cognitive and emotional demands directly influence the mental operations underlying humour processing as they lead to an increased or decreased information-processing capacity but also facilitate the adapting of humour processing strategies in a quick and flexible way as humour processing is dependent on the content and structure of a joke. Source: link.springer.com

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Jerry Lewis (The Ladies Man)

Aggressively flaunting its artifice and subordinating plot to Jerry Lewis’s gags, whims, and psychological quirks, “The Ladies Man” does as much to challenge and reconstitute cinematic storytelling as the more celebrated art house classics of its day. By 1961, the French New Wave was in full swing and Hollywood was going through a period of turmoil and soul searching that would eventually give way to the auteur-driven New Hollywood of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Despite Lewis’s distrust of ostentatiously intellectual movies, what he was doing on that Paramount soundstage comes awfully close to the spirit of the adventurous filmmaking that was taking place on the streets of Paris and New York. And while Lewis might have regarded their project with some suspicion, many of the new generation of filmmakers, including Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette, were enamored with his. Godard credited Russian-French Nicolas de Staël with inspiring the bold, primary colors of “Pierrot Le Fou,” but their cinematic antecedent can be found in Lewis’s loud, anti-naturalistic color schemes. For all his skill, though, Lewis cannot be explained purely in terms of mastery. 

Failure is an integral part of both Lewis’s art and his legend. When he went down, he went down hard: “The Day the Clown Cried,” is one of 20th century pop culture’s most disastrous pratfalls and almost killed his directorial career when he decided not to release it. Most of his films contain some of cinema’s most memorable iconography of social failure. Like Gogol’s heroes, his protagonists will often lose the ability to communicate at critical moments. He’s always vulnerable to humiliation, squirming under the watchful eyes of stony bosses and would-be love interests alike. Unlike Groucho Marx or an array of stand-up comedians, Lewis’s roots were in clowning. He was an exalted version of the Borscht Belt tummler, a hired entertainer who dresses as a waiter and deliberately falls into a hotel swimming pool to get a rise from vacationers. The irredeemable helplessness of Lewis’s onscreen persona is perhaps the element most responsible for making him such a hard sell today.  Still more troublingly, Lewis denies the viewer the analytic distance that makes contemporary cringe comedy work. Lewis wants his character to be an object of identification. What’s more, he wants to be loved. He wants to be loved so badly. Source: forward.com

"I never got a formal education. So my intellect is my common sense. I have some very personal feelings about politics, but I don't get into it because I do comedy already. I have so many points of view, I can't keep track of 'em, but I'm not so opinionated that I won't budge. The beauty of love, as far as I'm concerned, is it makes you better. It makes you stronger. It gives you direction. It gives you understanding of what life is and what we've been given." —Jerry Lewis

Hell might actually be other people — at least if you're really smart. That's the implication of fascinating new research published last month in the British Journal of Psychology. First, they find that people who live in more densely populated areas tend to report less satisfaction with their life overall. "The higher the population density of the immediate environment, the less happy" the survey respondents said. Second, they find that the more social interactions with close friends a person has, the greater their self-reported happiness. But there was one big exception. For more intelligent people, these correlations were diminished or even reversed. "The effect of population density on life satisfaction was therefore more than twice as large for low-IQ individuals than for high-IQ individuals," they found. And "more intelligent individuals were actually less satisfied with life if they socialized with their friends more frequently."

Let me repeat that last one: When smart people spend more time with their friends, it makes them less happy. It's no surprise that friend and family connections are generally seen as a foundational component of happiness and well-being. But why would this relationship get turned on its head for really smart people? I posed this question to Carol Graham, a Brookings Institution researcher who studies the economics of happiness. "The findings in here suggest (and it is no surprise) that those with more intelligence and the capacity to use it are less likely to spend so much time socializing because they are focused on some other longer term objective," she said. If you're smarter and more able to adapt to things, you may have an easier time reconciling your evolutionary predispositions with the modern world. So living in a high-population area may have a smaller effect on your overall well-being — that's what Kanazawa and Li found in their survey analysis. Similarly, smarter people may be better-equipped to jettison that whole hunter-gatherer social network — especially if they're pursuing some loftier ambition. Source: www.washingtonpost.com

A few months ago a Scientific American editorial claimed that “most of us are biological hybrids on a male — female continuum”. The editorial managed to upset the scientific community, among them Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, and University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne. There are clearly varying degrees of differences on average between males and females. In fact the sexual differences between men and women are increasingly supported across disciplines. As Dr. David P Schmitt notes: “Converging lines of empirical evidence — from developmental neuroscience, medical genetics, evolutionary biology, cross-cultural psychology, and new studies of transsexuality — along with our evolutionary heritage, all point to the same conclusion: There are psychological differences between men and women.” And indeed the evidence is rather overwhelming. In the hard sciences (e.g. biology, neuroscience) as well as cognitive science the question isn’t whether biological sex exists, but rather the how much biological sex influences our behavior. Source: medium.com



Chris Fujiwara: You said you put in moments, like in The Errand Boy and The Patsy,  where we feel what’s serious, what the stakes are for this character, why it’s important to watch him apart from his being funny. Are there moments like that in The Ladies Man?

Jerry Lewis: Where is your heart out there? His love scene with Pat Stanley, trying desperately to be that young man that might be her possible choice.

Chris Fujiwara: Pat Stanley in The Ladies Man. I like her performance, and I like how low-key the scenes between you and her are. They’re not played for laughs.

Jerry Lewis: No, never. Never for laughs. She was the umbilical between him and reality.

Pat Stanley's shy Fay might have been inspired by Jerry Lewis's unofficial first girlfriend/crush Lonnie Brown, who encouraged him to play his mimicry song act onstage. Although Lewis characteristically was tight-lipped about his romances, his hermetism about his relationship with Lonnie seems to suggest she only saw the young Lewis in a platonic light. Probably bewildered but incapable of admitting to a feeling of rejection since Lonnie was such a kind and supportive friend, maybe he could have felt guilty about testing the boundaries of their friendship. Lonnie thought of him as cute, a bit silly, vulnerable, and easily hurt. Lonnie, confessed Lewis, "had seen right through my soul." That Lewis always mentions Lonnie as a friend instead of adding to her any romantic cues gives us the idea he was romantically interested but nothing but flirting came out of his courtship. No doubt, that future Jerry Lewis, the successful Hollywood comedian, would be able to attract the attentions of number one sex symbol Marilyn Monroe was such a scratcher that would have befuddled the luckless teenage Jerry Lewis to no end. The silver lining that early befuddled Lewis, trapped between child and man, was going to turn his confusion into comedic ammunition reflected in his awkward rapport with his leading ladies.

The Ladies Man (1961), reviewed Adrian Martin was 'populated with every kind of infantile projection arising from fantasy or fear.' Al Capp, less generous, wrote in the Los Angeles Mirror, "I could endure the film for no more than twenty minutes. It was something painful: I felt it had been somehow indecent of me to peek at a grown man making an embarrassing, unentertaining fool of himself.” Gerald Mast wrote in The Comic Mind (1973), “Jerry Lewis’s primary failure is that he never discovered who he was. His gags do not flow from any human or personal center.” Mast also critiziced Lewis “cannot manage a plot.” In one sense Mast’s comments, and Sarris’s even more, are indicative of the substitution of analysis for judgment. The Ladies Man is sometimes remembered for the feat of the dollhouse stage itself, which, as biographer Shawn Levy describes it in King of Comedy as “something entirely new, part resort hotel, part TV studio, part burlesque stage, part film set.”  Lewis's spectacular three-story cutaway set so much impressed Godard that he would borrow it for Tout va Bien (1972). But what makes the film really resonate isn’t the architecture, but the premise: Lewis, by way of Herbert H. Heebert, wanted to be loved. But he was frequently prickly about that fact.  —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Marilyn's flying skirt, Stella Stevens & Jerry Lewis

Sixty-two years ago, American photographer Sam Shaw took one of the most timeless photographs: a mesmerising Marilyn Monroe having her white dress blown up above her knees. Over the years, the actress's iconic 'flying skirt' image has inspired many shows, stars and artworks; and now it's become a new tourist attraction in Dalian, a Chinese city. The Central Avenue shopping centre in north-eastern China has installed a gigantic, 26-foot-tall statue to capture the Hollywood star in her most glamorous yet infamous moment. The statue in China, made of aluminum and stainless steel, is an authorised copy of the famous Forever Marilyn sculpture. 

Forever Marilyn was created by American artist Seward Johnson in 2011 to pay homage to Monroe's classic scene in her 1955 film, The Seven Year Itch. The original artwork, weighing a whopping 34,000 pounds, was first installed in Chicago in July, 2011, before being moved to exhibit in various cities from 2012. Commenting on the actress who passed away in 1962 aged 36, Artist Seward Johnson said: 'Marilyn Monroe was an icon of beauty and a complex personality. I think that we all maintain a curiosity about her that hasn't waned over the years.' In 1959 Marilyn Monroe won the Comedy Best Actress Globe for Some Like It Hot (although she was not Oscar nominated). Source: www.dailymail.co.uk

Stella Stevens: I was under contract at Paramount Studios. Jerry Lewis had told the bosses at Paramount he wanted to cast the most beautiful ingénue at the studio–or something like that–so I got the gig for The Nutty Professor. At that time, the most popular actress to play that kind of role was Marilyn Monroe. Jerry was very nice and he changed my character's name from Stella Payne to Stella Purdy. A lot of people tell me I’m very good in the film. That’s because of Jerry’s assistance in molding my character. I was scared to death (during the filming), because I didn’t know what to do.  I thought I had to be funny and when I look back at it today, I cringe at a few of the things I did.

I had so much fun on that set. As the director, Jerry walked in early, and he was the last one to leave each night. He’s one of the best directors I ever worked with in my career. He was always trying to make me laugh. The way he conducted himself on the set, he made people feel special. As actors, we all tried to make the characters he created something special, and I think that’s why the film has stood the test of time. There’s never been anything like it made since. It’s because of Jerry Lewis the writer and director. He allowed me to just really hang out and observe as much as I wanted. He took the time to teach me how to write and direct a movie, and Walt Kelley the cinematographer taught me all about lighting. Source: filmtalk.org

In The Nutty Professor, Julius Kelp cannot express his desire for Stella Purdy, except through the voice of his alter ego Buddy Love. In The Big Mouth, Gerald similarly struggles in vain to get his girlfriend Suzie to listen to his lengthy explanations of his "problem." Lewis remains resolutely "low-brow" throughout most of his filmograhy. Although his comedies seem to offer a sort of purgation, they are never elevated in a classic sense. Even the sentimentality of which Lewis is often accused is the result of his stubborn refusal of sublimation or even "sophistication". Even as Lewis's movies perform the healing miracle of comedic catharsis, they also continually remind us of just how tenuous and how interminable is the "healing" process which they dramatize.

One way to think about The Big Mouth (1967) is to see it as Jerry Lewis' parody of Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959). We have a case of mistaken identity, leading to an innocent man (Jerry Lewis in the Cary Grant role) being caught up in deadly machinations and dangerous chases. So we have a romantic comedy wrapped in an adventure thriller (Susan Bay taking on the Eve Marie Saint role). We have authority figures who explain all the otherwise nonsensical twists and turns of the plot (the Leo G. Carroll character in Hitchcock's movie is parodied twice by Frank De Vol's Narrator). We have a MacGuffin (in this case, a bunch of stolen diamonds that are never found) around which the whole plot is organized. And we have a finale in an iconic location (the tacky Sea World in San Diego serves as an antitype for, and takes the place of, the majestic Mount Rushmore).

The mistaken identity theme is key. In Lewis' earlier films, his own character, the Idiot, is the originator and the primary focus of all the mayhem that unfolds. But in The Big Mouth, this is no longer the case. Lewis' primary character, Gerald Clamson, is pretty much a blank. He's an accountant--often portrayed in comedy as the stereotypically dullest profession. It is almost as if Lewis had erased all the characteristics of his comedic persona, to leave us with nothing more than a purely generic movie protagonist. Clamson's love interest, Suzie (Susan Bay), is similarly bland and generic: she's an airline stewardess and an old-fashioned sort of girl who likes it when men act chivalrously towards her. Between the two of them, Lewis and Bay make for an utterly hellish vision of pre-second-wave-feminism American gender norms. Syd Valentine (the crook also played by Lewis) is as indestructible and uncatchable as George Kaplan, the nonexistent spy for whom Cary Grant is mistaken in North By Northwest. 

Gerald Clamson most fully turns into someone we can recognize as a Jerry Lewis character when he puts on a disguise. In order to get a room in the hotel from which he has been banned by the smarmy manager (Del Moore, ringing changes on his previous role as the college president in The Nutty Professor), Clamson adopts a rich-old-geezer disguise, in a performance that closely resembles Lewis' eponymous role in The Nutty Professor. This is a strange inversion; in The Nutty Professor, the humiliated Julius Kelp transforms himself into the suave Buddy Love. In The Big Mouth, to the contrary, Lewis' normative character evades detection by disguising himself as a singular eccentric. As the Narrator remarks, Clamson now looks like a "live creep" instead of a "dead crook." In The Big Mouth, Jerry Lewis turns the Hitchcockian theme of mistaken identity into a means for the production of comedy. Precisely by making his base character into a generic nonentity, he is able to propagate waves of identity disruption throughout the film. Source: sensesofcinema.com

Monday, November 27, 2017

Jerry Lewis: A Sincere Phony

“Do you know how many would-be comics there are in this quaint little business we’re in? When there’s a full moon, they all crawl out of the woodwork. There are only half a dozen really top comics. The others will never make it. Comedy is the most serious business in the world. It’s goddamned hard work being funny, whether you’re a comic or a comedian. A comic opens funny doors. A comedian opens doors funny. Did you ever stop to think what makes one comedian a smash and another a failure, 'material'? The last new joke was invented by Aristophanes. Jokes are basically all the same. George Burns can tell six jokes that the guy on the bill ahead of him just told, and Burns will get bigger laughs. Do you know why? 'Personality.' You start with a personality and you turn it into a character. Take Bob Hope. If he came out and did a Jack Benny monologue, he’d bomb. Why? Because he’s built up a character. That’s what the audiences expect from him. When Hope walks out, they want to hear those rapid-fire jokes. He’s a likeable smart-ass, the big city fellow who gets his lumps. Jack Benny—just the opposite. He woudn’t know what to do with a Bob Hope monologue, but he can take a two-minute pause and make an audience scream. Do you know what you’ve got? A lovable face. There’s a naïve sweetness about you. You’re a good kid, but you’re stupid, I guess that’s part of being a genius. If you package it right, it could be worth a fucking fortune.” —"A Stranger in the Mirror" (1976) by Sidney Sheldon

Interestingly, women and men appear to differ in humor appreciation not only in terms of the content of humor but also in terms of the preferred structure of humor, according to Peter Derks (professor of psychology at the College of William & Mary, Virginia) in The Primer of Humor Research (2017). Behavioral studies of humor appreciation have generally indicated that men are more likely than women to enjoy humor containing aggressive or sexual content, whereas women are more likely to enjoy nonsensical or absurd humor structures. Researcher Professor Allan Reiss said: 'Our findings fit the stereotype of how men and women react to humour. We found greater activity in the pre-frontal cortex in women, indicating women are processing stimuli that involve language areas of the brain. The interpretation of that finding is that women tend to respond more to narrative and wordplay than slapstick.' Analysis of a 'feelgood' brain region called the nucleus accumbens also revealed that men and women have different attitudes to humour. Professor Reiss, of Stanford University in California, said: 'Women appeared to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punchline of the cartoon. So when they got the joke's punchline, they were more pleased about it.' The funnier the cartoon was, the more the women's nucleus accumbens lit up. But this was not the case for men, who seemed to expect the cartoons to be funny from the start. Men are more likely to use 'hostile' humour to criticise each other and establish dominance, while women employ humour to maintain relationships and put each other at ease. Source: www.academia.edu

Mark Twain wrote in Following the Equator (1897): “Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.” Abraham Maslow (“A Theory of Human Motivation”) discovered that most self-actualized people do not have the same sense of humor as the average person. For example: they do not laugh at unfunny or smutty jokes. Comedians tend to be more introverted than the average person but on the stage they often portrait a different personality. Humor operates through a variety of techniques, which first generate surprise, then amusement, and laughter once the unexpected incongruity is resolved. As different types of jokes use different techniques, the corresponding humor processes also differ. The findings revealed differences in brain activity for an interaction between sex/gender and joke type. Women displayed greater activation in the temporoparietal–mesocortical-motor network than men, demonstrating the importance of the temporoparietal junction presumably for ‘theory of mind’ processing, the orbitofrontal cortex for motivational functions and reward coding, and the supplementary motor area for laughter. Women also showed greater activation than men in the frontal-mesolimbic network including the anterior (prefrontal cortex) for executive control processes, and the amygdala and midbrain for reward anticipation and salience processes. Men of superior intelligence tended to use humor that involved projecting oneself into a different situation. Women were more likely than men to enjoy jokes based on the semantic technique of allusion. The study also found that jokes with double meanings were funnier to men than women, but the difference was not statistically significant. Furthermore, the expressive behaviors of laughing and smiling have been found to directly influences the funniness ratings given by women but not by men. Source: www.ncbi.nlm.gov

It is in Hollywood or Bust and Artists and Models, coming at the end of his partnership with Dean Martin and the start of his collaboration with Frank Tashlin, that the dominant myth of Jerry Lewis begins to clearly emerge. Jerry the simple idiot-boy starts to develop a self-consciousness. In Artists and Models he is a creative comic book genius. And in Hollywood or Bust, the awareness he reveals of Dean Martin’s duplicity is not merely a revelation pulled from Tashlin’s hat. It is a sign of an increasing self-awareness and distance from his stereotyped screen persona. Placed in Tashlin’s surreal universe, Jerry’s increased consciousness serves to reveal the world’s (and Dean Martin’s) hypocrisy. In his child-like personality, he is holier than the Machiavellian adults around him, and his innocence (a basic principle carried over into his own films) in Tashlin’s hands is pure— all the better foil to reflect the films’ caricature of mass culture.

In Artists and Models, Jerry demonstrates the phoniness of the world around him with the same idiotic innocence displayed by Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It. Jerry was the ultimate Tashlinesque male, Joe Schmoe taken to his logical, spectatorial conclusion. In Hollywood or Bust he sets out with his trusty steed, accompanied by Dean Martin (the no-nonsense crook), to find the holy vessel (Anita Ekberg) in the land of dreams (Hollywood). The central developing issue in Jerry's self-directed films, from The Bellboy through The Patsy, is an elaborately choreographed movement around the problem of his uncertain relationship to the world around him. The complexity of the problem assumes schizophrenic dimensions when Lewis begins to spin off alternate personalities. These are Jerry Lewis’ desperate words at the end of The Patsy: “Hollywood: it’s a dumb city... I’m Jerry Lewis. This is a film set.” In The Big Mouth, rather than revealing the falseness of Hollywood (as he does in The Patsy), Jerry Lewis strays only slightly from the reality context of the film’s narrator; and most importantly, has the narrator celebrating with good-natured idiocy the falseness of the medium.

As a companion film to The Nutty Professor, The Patsy even more directly tackles the problem of Jerry Lewis’ troublesome image. Paralleling the transformation from Julius Kelp to Buddy Love is the gradual transformation of Stanley Belt, bellboy, to Stanley Belt, the great comedian. More harmonious in tone than The Nutty Professor, The Patsy is surely no more comforting to watch than its predecessor, through a clearly expressed bitterness toward the world of show business. Is it any accident that the supporting characters of Jerry’s rags-to-riches-and-fame story are played with appropriate ghoulishness by horror and gangster film veterans Peter Lorre, John Carradine, Everett Sloane, George Raft, and Phil Harris? Clearly, The Patsy is a horror story. But whereas the transformation of character in The Nutty Professor occurred within a traditional horror plot (Jekyll and Hyde) in a traditional horror location (a scientific laboratory), here the plot is more Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life — the settings are the Beverly Hilton and the sound stages in Hollywood. Peter Lorre, playing the film director, says at the beginning of The Patsy, “This scene has all the makings of a great melodrama.” And for Jerry Lewis, the Hollywood melodrama is a horror story — his horror story.

Thus also begins his willing victimization, which would be horrible if it weren’t funny. His hair falls out at the barber; he destroys his voice at the teacher’s house; and, finally he bombs at the Copa in a nightmare vision of failure and inadequacy. Deserted by all the leeches who have tried to make him into something other than Stanley Belt, he seems to invent an act that, in itself, recapitulates the structure of the film. He has proved—as Julius Kelp proved—that he isn’t an idiot. Upon his success, the question arises of how deliberate were his earlier failures. One suspects that Stanley may have played the fool purposely—to expose the insincerity and opportunism of his promoters. This attitude is the protest of an ordinary man against the constraints of his stardom. He is obstinate with his promoters in order to retain an identity outside of the image they want him to become. In one expressive, low-angle shot, we see that he has been made over, his innocence lost. But, as if this transformation from well-meaning clod to powerful star is too much to take (as it was in The Nutty Professor), the new Stanley falls off the balcony to his death. Are we to read this as a lament for the old, lost Stanley? Apparently, so Ina Balin starts to cry. The average guy has climbed to the heights and fallen. And unlike his fall at the beginning of the film, he can’t bounce back. Lost with his innocence is the magic. But a new magic enters the picture along with what looks like a third Stanley Belt: Jerry Lewis the director.

In another move of psychic desperation. Jerry Lewis’ relentless self-criticism has boxed him into a corner. The appearance of “Jerry Lewis” in front of the camera does not clear up the unsolved questions of what happened to the old, original Stanley. Instead, the Pirandellian ploy underlines the nightmare quality of the two Stanleys and their inexplicable appearance/disappearance. To say it s only a movie at the end of a film that has shown the movie business in such a frightening light is hardly reassuring. The Patsy is the last Jerry Lewis film to deal so directly with the director-star’s ambivalent feelings about his alternate or concurrent screen image. In The Family Jewels, Three on a Couch, The Big Mouth, and Which Way to the Front?, there is always a constant Jerry Lewis character. Even when other roles must be played, never again does the director allow the “other characters” to vie for center stage, as they did in The Patsy and The Nutty ProfessorThe Patsy is Lewis as Hollywood burnout. He's Buddy Love desperately trying to turn back into Julius Kelp—a phony, but a sincere phony.

Within the slick aesthetic precision of Three on a Couch, the appearance of alter-egos Warren, Rutherford, Ringo, and Heather seem positively therapeutic in contrast to the compulsive personality shifts in the earlier films. Christopher Pride, far more than any previous Jerry Lewis character, is not only normal, but, as his name suggests in contrast to Heebert, Stanley, Gerald, etc., is an integrated heroic character. In a comic style reminiscent more of Lubitsch than of Keaton or Chaplin, Three on a Couch for the first time presents Jerry Lewis the actor playing a character quite distant from the clods or clowns or egomaniacs who populate the worlds of his earlier films. A character who might easily have been played by Cary Grant, Christopher Pride is a smooth operator who plays his roles with a full consciousness of logical purpose. Of course, in these roles are remnants of the other Jerry Lewises — aesthetically synthesized into the story and emotionally integrated into the clear conception of the main character. Source: brightlightsfilm.com

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Lewis, Peter Pan Syndrome

Marilyn Monroe's gold-plated earrings, designed by Eugene Joseff of Joseff of Hollywood, have sold at auction for $112,500—well over the original estimate of $60K-$80K. The famous costume baubles, which were styled with a gold lamé pleated gown by Travilla, were worn in an image to promote the 1953 musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Separately, Monroe's pearl earrings, also by Joseff, went for $81,250. Other items sold during Julien's Auctions' "Property From Joseff of Hollywood: Treasures From the Vault" auction included Shirley Temple's crown from The Little Princess (1939) for $37,500; Rita Hayworth's gold-plated bracelet from Gilda (1946) for $31,250; and Elizabeth Taylor's snake cuff bracelet from Cleopatra (1963) for $21,875. Source: www.hollywoodreporter.com

There is some controversy regarding the issue of whether Marilyn was a model for the Tinkerbell character in Peter Pan. Since Peter Pan was released in 1953, just as another curvaceous blonde, Marilyn Monroe, was becoming America’s most popular screen actress and sex symbol, it’s easy to make the assumption that Tinker Bell was intended to be a Monroesque minx. However, at the time Peter Pan went into production, Marilyn Monroe was not the world famous epitome of the sexy, glamorous 1950s star she is now. Although far from unknown, back then Marilyn was still working her way up the Hollywood ladder of stardom in a series supporting roles and bit parts — she had not yet been featured in a starring role, planted her handprints in front of Graumann’s Chinese Theatre with Jane Russell, or appeared as the centerfold in Playboy’s premiere issue. Source: www.snopes.com

JM Barrie might be most famous for his classic story of a flying boy who never grows up, but the author was also far ahead of his time when it came to cognitive psychology, according to a Cambridge academic who argues the Peter Pan author’s whimsical stories deliberately explore the nature of cognition. Neuroscientist Rosalind Ridley, of Newnham College in Cambridge, claims in Peter Pan and the Mind of JM Barrie that the author’s work identifies key stages of child development. One scene she spotlights in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, published in 1906, sees a girl giving a tearful Peter her handkerchief, which he is confused by. “So she showed him, that is to say she wiped her eyes, and then gave it back to him, saying: ‘Now you do it,’ but instead of wiping his own eyes he wiped hers, and she thought it would be best to pretend that this is what she had meant,” writes Barrie. The narrative of Peter Pan is a coming-of-age story, a fantasy for children and adults, and the myth of a golden age, but was also invented by the author “essentially for himself in order to explore and perhaps make some sense of his own emotional difficulties, to investigate the interplay of the world of facts and the world of the imagination and to rediscover the heightened experiences of infancy”. “In the process,” she writes, “he created a work of genius.” Source: www.theguardian.com

“I still maintain the loveliness of our world is children and unfortunately that loveliness turns into darkness because they have to grow up. Look in the mirror and see value. ‘Cause there’s a lot of people out there who aren’t sensitive enough, aren’t caring enough, and that’s negative, but it’s fact. Optimism will get them out of your way. If it sounds like a pipe dream, try me. What have you got to lose? But, everything to gain.” —Jerry Lewis, Inside The Actor’s Studio, 1999

"Jerry has the propensity to will himself in so many constructive as well as destructive ways.”  —Patti Lewis

Born Sarah Joan Todd on June 7, 1935 in Boone, Missouri, Sally Todd entered The Miss Tucson Beauty Contest in 1952 and won first prize, which was an all-expense paid trip to Hollywood. Once on the west coast, Sally began modeling for the ladies swim wear company Cole of California, and in 1953, she made her film debut in a Jane Russell film for RKO called The French Line. In 1956, Sally was offered a screen test with 20th Century Fox. As perhaps a possible threat to a discontented (and increasingly temperamental) Marilyn Monroe, the studio quickly signed the newly platinum blonde Sally to a contract with the intentions of grooming her for the type of sex symbol parts Monroe had begun refusing. Fox promoted their new starlet in the L.A. Times as “a young Lana Turner and much prettier than Marilyn Monroe”, and placed her in background roles in The Revolt of Mamie Stover (again with Jane Russell) and The Best Things in Life Are Free.

Sally Todd: In the summer of 1955 I signed a contract with NBC to do six weeks work on the Colgate Comedy Hour. I was thrilled to learn that I would be working that summer with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Even though they were feuding with each other by then, I still was very excited because they were still enormously popular as a comedy team. Jerry and Dean were so much fun to be around. The Colgate Comedy Hour was broadcast live each week which meant that I had to join the AFTRA union, of which I had not been a member previously. Well, Jerry evidently took a romantic shine to me as soon as he met me and he offered to pay for my union card, which I thought was kind of unusual, but I took him up on it as I really wanted the job. The shows I did with Dean and Jerry were great. We would do different comedy skits each week and I would play a sexy nurse one week and maybe a secretary the next week and a girl in a bathing suit the following week. As time went on, I noticed during rehearsals that Jerry was becoming more and more attentive towards me.

But, I didn’t mind it too much as I was learning how to flirt with a man and then how to run away as quickly as possible afterwards. I didn’t want to lose my job over something stupid like a false rumor going around that I was having an affair with Jerry Lewis. I knew I could be replaced at any time if people started believing that. So, I always managed to outrun him and still have fun on the show and then on the last week of work one of the other girls came up to me and said, ‘Jerry is looking everywhere for you.’ At almost the same time, the assistant director came over to me and said, ‘Sally, we were all looking for you. Jerry wants to talk to you about your AFTRA card.’ (laughs) So, that’s the story of my almost-romance with Jerry Lewis, God love him. Source: www.john-odowd.com

“It was a real Jekyll-Hyde situation at home as well as on the set. When I played the scientist everything was O.K. but when I played the other character things would get chillier at home. And this kind of shook me up and I said, 'You’re telling me I did a very good job.' And my wife Patti said, 'You did a marvelous job playing the worst human being I’ve ever seen in my life'.” —Jerry Lewis