WEIRDLAND: Jerry Lewis (The Ladies Man)

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:

"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:

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:

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 since Lonnie was such a kind and supportive friend, he must 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 mentioned Lonnie as a friend excepting any romantic cues, it gives us the idea he was romantically interested but nothing came out of his courtship. The future Jerry Lewis, the successful Hollywood comedian, would be able to attract the attention of sex symbol Marilyn Monroe: that would have befuddled hapless teenage Jerry Lewis. The silver lining is that early version of young Lewis, trapped between child and man, would turn his confusion into comedic ammunition reflected in his awkward rapport with his leading ladies.

The Ladies Man (1961), as reviewed by 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

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