Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Susan Slept Here: Tashlin's Christmas movie

Susan Slept Here: This 1954 holiday set romantic comedy is actually narrated by an Oscar statuette! A struggling veteran screenwriter, played by the former baby-faced tenor of 30′s musicals Dick Powell, is surprised to find a spunky juvenile delinquent under the Christmas tree. It’s Debbie Reynolds, just a couple of years after the classic SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. Also in the cast are future TV stars Anne Francis (“Honey West”) and Alvy Moore (Mr. Kimball on “Green Acres”). This is one of the early feature films directed by former Loony Tunes animator/director Frank Tashlin. 

Later Tashlin would guide the movie careers of Jayne Mansfield and Jerry Lewis. Tashlin's mastery of color and the general visual impact within the frame is evident much as it would be on Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? three years later. The former animator included less purely visual gags on Susan Slept Here but what he did come up with, like the placement of the Navy anchor on Mark's friend Virgil (Alvy Moore), is typically brilliant, if subtle. The hues are dazzling also, throughout the movie but especially in a strange musical dream sequence that, despite the presence of two great stars of the genre in Powell and Reynolds, comes out of nowhere in terms of the plot.

Vincente Minnelli deservedly gets a lot of credit for his use of color but Tashlin is right there too. His star is simply not as high, and his career was much shorter. Frank Tashlin was one of the best of the fifties Hollywood directors both at working with color and at directing comedy. His smart but zany style of the latter plays today like a natural continuation of the screwball comedies of the thirties and forties. An overlooked Christmas classic, Susan Slept Here is sweet and heartwarming at its core, yet refreshingly caustic around the edges. Source:

Regardless of whether it is character or situation that provides Tashlin with an opportunity for sexual comedy, he seizes it; both cases give him the chance to push the limits of blue humor. Susan Slept Here is one of Tashlin’s most risqué films. A major hallmark of Tashlin’s style is that his sexual gags are both extremely blue and creatively and thoroughly ambiguous. In Susan Slept Here, Susan remarks on the blonde hair of Mark’s fiancée, opining that she has gotten a “dye job”; Mark insists that she’s a natural blonde. “You sure?” asks Susan, to which Mark says, “We’re very good friends. [pause] She told me.” —"Tashlinesque: The Hollywood comedies of Frank Tashlin" (2012) by Ethan de Seife

On Christmas Eve of 1949, Vera Jayne Palmer (Jayne Mansfield) attended a party with her girlfriends. Paul Mansfield was invited to the party also. Jayne immediately had a crush for the black haired, mature looking twenty year old guy. “It was the most conservative Christmas Eve I ever spent. He was not a great talker. He had a silent way of moving and in taking over. I liked that and I was enveloped by his subtle masculinity. I mean the firmness with which he handled himself. I respected him.” Another man, a twenty-four year old gas station attendant, called ‘Inky’ by Jayne, took her to several parties during the holiday season. He also bought Jayne her first alcoholic drink. First timer Jayne drank way too much, so Inky decided to leave and get some coffee and something to eat to sober her up. “On the way home we stopped in the park. Inky kissed me. All the rest followed. I was certainly ready and willing. It was my first time.” Around this time Jayne found out that she was pregnant. Not daring to tell her parents, she called Paul. He directly offered to marry her. Paul Mansfield remembered the following from that period: “Late January we just decided to elope. We didn’t tell anybody about it. She was sixteen, I was twenty-one. I was young and in love and she was too. We got married in a fever, hotter than a couple of cats.” 

But once installed in Hollywood, Paul Mansfield started to get annoyed with his wife’s career hunt: “I had began to not like what I saw and I told her that. I just couldn’t stand the attention she was receiving from other men. I didn’t know how we were going to take care of little Jayne Marie in a family with that kind of atmosphere. So along about the Spring of 1955 we separated and I took a job in San Francisco and moved away.” Although Paul remembers it being the Spring, Jayne and Paul actually separated on January 7, 1955. Later Jayne told Raymond Strait about her break up with Paul: “Hollywood broke up our marriage—my desire for stardom. I was a real bitch after we came to Hollywood.” Still aiming a career as a movie star, Jayne boosted her career with the help of Bill Shiffrin, who became Jayne’s agent. Because he believed Hollywood could use another blonde glamour girl besides Kim Novak and Marilyn Monroe, he took Jayne in as a client.

In their earlier film The Girl Can’t Help It, Tashlin let Jayne portray a super sexy girl who was unaware of her physique, but in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Jayne played completely the opposite as the star who used her built to gain publicity and fame for her own success. The character Rita Marlowe is the most crucial role of Jayne’s career. The part brought her fame on Broadway, and upon her return to Hollywood she wasn’t the pin-up starlet when she left for the East coast, but achieved the status of an important celebrity who had the opportunity of becoming a mega star. 

Besides this new career perspective, the part and name of Rita Marlowe of course stands for all that Jayne Mansfield desired to be when she was dreaming of becoming a well known and beloved movie star and all that she became and stood for in real life as the outrageous, publicity keen glamour star the world had come to know. Most critics were enthused with Jayne and the movie, but some thought it to be vulgar and in bad taste. In her autobiography Jayne showed a hint of insight on the effect of her being typecast as a sexpot: “My new bosses at 20th-Fox had to realize they had signed a star personality. My publicity continued to make the papers every day. I was invited to big parties and premieres. But this wasn’t enough. I needed to prove that I could act too. I proved something to Broadway, but could I to Hollywood? So the picture was made and I never worked so hard. It was released and was a big success. The critics liked my dizzy, extroverted, funny Rita Marlowe. I was a hit. I had arrived on all levels.” 

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? started filming on March 19, 1957. Tashlin called it a wrap on May 2. Since Paramount studios producer Hal Wallis didn’t allow Tashlin to use comedian Jerry Lewis for the part of George Schmidlapp, he cast Groucho Marx at the end of shooting. Jayne made clear she preferred Lewis but she agreed to come back to the studio to shoot her scene with Marx on June 10. The movie was released June 29th, 1957. 20th Century Fox planned a publicity tour through 16 European countries for Jayne. On September 25th, she arrived in England. In October she visited Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Bulgaria, France, Italy and Sweden. On November 6, 1957 Jayne arrived in Los Angeles. In the United States only the film brought in $1.4 million for 20th Century Fox. In 2000, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. —"Affectionately, Jayne Mansfield" (2012) by Richard Koper.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Merry Christmas with Lucille Ball & Jerry Lewis

Despite his grudging acceptance of the role of Seymour, Jerry Lewis was brilliant in "My Friend Irma" (1949) directed by George Marshall. In December 1948, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin made a NBC radio show. Lucille Ball was their guest, singing “The Money Song” with them, and Jerry ended the show by stepping out of character to thank the audience and make a plea for the March of Dimes—his first recorded charity pitch. The NBC radio show did, in fact, include a routine from My Friend Irma almost verbatim—but the ratings foundered and the network had trouble finding a sponsor. However, Martin & Lewis were a success on their debut film My Friend Irma. Crediting the “comedy know-how” of George Marshall, Variety described Martin and Lewis as “a team that has decided film possibilities if backed with the right material and used properly.” Lewis, the review said, “will rate loud guffaws for his mugging.” Dean, however, it noted, “needs to tone down nitery mannerisms for films.” 

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Christmas Show, on December 5, 1949. My Friend Irma had been released on September 28, 1949.

I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, a new one-hour special featuring two back-to-back colorized episodes of the classic series, will be rebroadcast Sunday, Dec. 24 (8:00-9:01 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL features "The Christmas Episode" and the newly colorized "The Fashion Show." Both were colorized with a nod to the 1950s period in which they were filmed. The main titles and end credits are seamlessly combined into one set at the beginning and end of the hour, with no interruption between the episodes.

"The Christmas Episode" was first broadcast on CBS on Christmas Eve, 1956. The episode was not included in the series' long history of rebroadcasts, first on CBS Daytime and later in syndication. Long thought to be lost, the program was rediscovered by CBS in 1989. In "The Fashion Show," Lucy convinces Ricky to allow her to spend up to $100 on a dress at the fashionable Don Loper Salon in Beverly Hills. However, when an opportunity arises for Lucy to participate in a Loper fashion show featuring glamorous movie star wives, Lucy winds up spending five times that! Lucy hopes that if she gets a mild sunburn, Ricky will feel sorry for her and forgive her for spending so much, though, as always, she goes a bit too far!

"The Fashion Show" was originally broadcast Feb. 28, 1955, and became an immediate favorite not only of viewers, but of Lucille Ball herself. The episode features a few of her real-life personal friends: Mrs. Gordon MacRae, Mrs. William Holden, Mrs. Van Heflin, Mrs. Forrest Tucker and Don Loper himself. "I Love Lucy" Christmas specials have aired on the Network the past four years, each combining the holiday-themed episode with a different comedy classic. Beginning in 2015, "The Christmas Episode" has been shown colorized in its entirety, with fully-colorized flashback scenes. "I Love Lucy" was broadcast on the Network from Oct. 15, 1951 through June 23, 1957. It was voted "The Best TV Show of All Time" in a 2012 viewer poll conducted by People magazine and ABC News. "I Love Lucy" stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and Vivian Vance and William Frawley as the Ricardos' friends and landlords, Ethel and Fred Mertz. Source:

One of the most important things that Lucille Ball showed was that women could be funny and attractive all at once—a groundbreaking concept for the day. This was particularly admirable given that Lucy was beautiful enough to be a conventional film star, and, in fact had become a Hollywood movie sensation as ‘Queen of the B-Movies.’ But she shrugged off the persona of a cool beauty, instead reveling in the chance to get a laugh. She was never afraid to look foolish, silly, or even ugly for the sake of a good gag and her public loved her for it. By proving this formula, she paved the way for generations of funny women to come. Think of Carol Burnett, Roseanne, Gilda Radner, Candice Bergen and Joan Rivers—they all owe at least a part of their success to the amazing Lucy. Molly Haskell, one of the most prominent and discerning critics of popular culture, had her say in a piece entitled “50 Years and Millions of Reruns Later, Why Does America Still Love Lucy?” To Haskell, the answer lay in Ball’s subversive approach.

“Although the Lucy persona would disavow any connection with feminism,” the author asserts, “in her own foot-in-mouth way, she cuts a wide swath through male supremacy, saying anything that comes into her head and taking down sacred cows and chauvinist bulls along the way. Trying to say ‘thank you’ to Ricky’s pompous Cuban uncle, and garbling her Spanish, she calls him a fat pig before accidentally (?) shredding his foot-long, hand-rolled cigar—symbol of Lucy’s assault on puffed-up male potency.” Lucy may surrender at the final clinch, but she is no surrendered wife. Molly Haskell’s affectionate tone was amplified by another pop culture critic. Writing in the New York Times, Joyce Millman argued that Lucy “waged an unspoken battle against Ricky’s attitude of male superiority—you could feel her sense of injustice burning behind every scheme.” How did I Love Lucy become television’s most popular sitcom in a deeply conservative era? “It did not violate viewers’ comfort zones, particularly female viewers’ comfort zones. If Ball had been too forthright, she might have turned women away from the show.”

So Ball couched her characters’ bold ambitions in peerless physical comedy. She looked silly and unglamorous. And as a clown, Ball was a radical, powerful figure; it was as if she was daring you to think it was unseemly for a woman to put on a putty nose or a fright wig and throw herself into a joke with body and soul. (Decades later, physical comedians like Lily Tomlin and Gilda Radner finished what Ball started, turning chaotic energy into a feminist statement). Statements like these would have astonished Lucy, who had gone public with her view of the Movement: “Women’s lib? It doesn’t interest me one bit. I’ve been so liberated it hurts.” In High Anxiety: Catastrophe, Scandal, Age, and Comedy (1992), University of Wisconsin history professor Patricia Mellencamp uses Lucy to underscore her investigations of 1950s America: “When it comes to money, there are two kinds of people: the earners and the spenders. Or more popularly known, husbands and wives.” To Mellencamp, “this ‘ethos of gender’ recognizes a key facet of postwar ideology, a cluster of ideals and expectations at the crossroads of mainstream representatives of gender roles, marriage, domesticity, and consumerism.”

Every week for seven years, she reminds us, “Lucy, the chorus girl/clown, complained that Ricky was preventing her from becoming a star. For twenty-four minutes, she valiantly tried to escape domesticity by getting a job in show business. After a tour de force performance of physical comedy, in the inevitable reversal and failure of the end, she was resigned to stay happily at home serving big and little Ricky. The ultimate ‘creation/cancellation’—the series’ premise, which was portrayed in brilliant performances and then denied weekly—was that Lucy was not star material.” In one celebrated episode (“The Ballet”), Lucy throws a pie in Ricky’s face during his solo at the Tropicana.

In large measure the praise of I Love Lucy is due to Lucille Ball's talent and grit. She was not only funnier than anyone else on TV; she was also more beautiful—a matchless combination. But there is another component in the mix—Lucille Ball was a festival of contradictions: a woman who yearned for her own family and didn’t know how to relate to her children; a demanding wife; a cold-eyed, exacting businesswoman who made others cry—and then retreated into tears when her authority was questioned.

Jerry Lewis was once quoted as saying about female comedians: “a woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me, but sets me back a bit.” In 2014 Lewis clarified he thought women were funny, but not as crude standup comics. "Seeing a woman project the kind of aggression that you have to project as a comic just rubs me wrong. And they're funny—I mean you got some very funny people that do beautiful work but I have a problem with the lady up there that's going to give birth to a child—which is a miracle." And Lewis called Lucille Ball "brilliant." In many ways, Lucille Ball was the female equivalent of Jerry Lewis, both having reached the peak of their popularity during the 1950s. —"Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball" (2007) by Stefan Kanfer

How about Lucille Ball's reputation as one of the wealthiest women in Hollywood? Unamused, her voice boomed out loud and clear. “For God’s sake, are you dumb, I haven’t seen a paycheck in 20-some years. I know what I owe. Nobody in Hollywood has any money with our taxes. It’s a lot of crap to say I’m a business tycoon and such,” Lucy emoted on, with a straight face, though she had sold her Desilu production company for $17 million and is the Hank Aaron of TV residuals. “The only people who have big money are some little old ladies in Boston or some Maharaji Cuckoo in Arabia—that’s real money. We all have jobs, not money. I have great credit, that’s my real credential as a businesswoman. The better the year, the more I have to borrow. That’s one reason Cary Grant quit the picture business.” Source:

Film Tribute to Jerry Lewis at the MIC (Interactive Museum of Cinema) in Milan, Italy (Viale Fulvio Testi 121), scheduled from 12-23 December 2017. The ticket cost for admission is 6,50 € (7,64 $).

Tuesday, 19 December, 5:00 PM: The Nutty Professor (1963)
To improve his social life, a nerdish professor drinks a potion that temporarily turns him into the handsome, but obnoxious, Buddy Love. Jerry Lewis directed, co-wrote and starred in this riotously funny movie that set a new standard for screen comedy. Co-starring Stella Stevens as his love interest Stella Purdy.

Thursday, 21 December, 5:00 PM: The Patsy (1964)
When a star comedian dies, his comedy team, decides to train a nobody to fill the shoes of the Star in a big TV show (a Patsy). But the man they choose, bellboy Stanley Belt (Lewis) cant do anything right. The big TV show is getting closer and Stanley gets worse all the time. Source:

"I look closely at the world. I see it as it is, but I'm twisting it to make it funny." —Jerry Lewis

Hampton Fancher (screenwriter of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049) remembers Jerry Lewis as an egocentric sentimentalist, describing the person he met as "this guy who has everything, except he doesn't have enough. I kind of liked him. When you see him in person, he was actually a handsome guy. He's got beauty in his face. He's a serious guy. Takes himself very seriously. Not a funny guy. I met a lot of comedians: Jack Benny, Buddy Hackett... Funny people who socially were quite the opposite. Anyway, Jerry Lewis was the opposite and also very sad and not about any particular thing. I could see that he was the classic Chaplin City Lights kind of thing. He was alone and he doesn't want to be alone. He said to me, when the shoot for the movie (Romeo und Julia 70) was finished: 'You want to stay? I can get you back to L.A.' I was sorry I didn't stay. I felt that kind of sentimental guilt. I was too interested in my own future and I was not happy with him."

"I felt for him. In his persona there is a neediness, in almost all of his roles. Maybe his only roots were his own myths about himself. When I heard that he died, I thought of three scenes from his films that stuck in my head. The first one is of him working in a hospital: The Disorderly Orderly (1964). He is walking on the grounds and while patients tell him of their ills, he is physically feeling everything they tell him about. I always thought that awareness was great. I could identify with that. Someone tells you how they cut their finger - it goes right through your own body. These scenes are a fantastic exploration of empathy." On Jerry Lewis in The Disorderly Orderly car chase scene Fancher says: "He doesn't even have a stuntman doing it, he is doing it himself. And who comes down on a gurney down the hill? It's Jerry."

"I did have another connection. My girlfriend was one of his best friends. Joan Blackman, she was under contract by Hal B. Wallis, same guy Jerry was under contract at Paramount. And she did Visit To A Small Planet [1960] with Jerry and they became good friends. He was very generous. He gave her and her husband at the time all kinds of things. He was very kind to them. He helped them a lot in their careers. My second scene: Jerry plays a magician and, appropriately, has a pet rabbit who likes to slide on his belly down the handrail of the staircase—so much, the rabbit's belly is all red and smoke comes off it. The rabbit at one point wears sunglasses and has a drink."

I haven't seen this one [The Geisha Boy, 1958] in a very long time. Maybe that's why they like him in France because he has some surrealistic imagination and does crazy things that nobody does. And the third scene is with Dean Martin (You're Never Too Young, 1955) and takes place in a boarding school where he pretends to be a child but he is really a grown up. He is wearing shorts and is doing a musical number, military inspired, with a group of girl students there. R.W. Fassbinder used this scene in his In a Year with 13 Moons [1978]. Source:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Mr Robot Season 4, Think Aaron Schwartz

“No man, for any considerable period, may wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” —Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Mr. Robot” has been renewed for Season 4, USA Network announced Wednesday. The series stars Rami Malek and Christian Slater. It follows Elliot Alderson (Malek), a cyber-security engineer who became involved in the underground hacker group fsociety after being recruited by their mysterious leader Mr. Robot (Slater), whom he later discovered to be the projection of his dead father. Following the events of fsociety’s five/nine hack on the multi-national E Corp, the series explores the consequences of the attack, the motivations of those involved and the disintegration between Elliot and Mr. Robot. The series also stars Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, Martin Wallström, Grace Gummer, Michael Cristofer, Bobby Cannavale and BD Wong. 

Christian Slater recently received his third consecutive Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, an award which he won in 2016. Malek has been nominated for two Golden Globes for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Drama. He also won the Emmy in 2016 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Source:

Fsociety’s revolution, Elliot’s hacks... all of it was a thrilling and emotionally cathartic response to a world that seemed immune to any efforts to improve it. We’re at the mercy of forces far beyond our control, to the point that we’re often scorned even for attempts to imagine transforming it, by people who have so fully made peace with rapacious capitalist structures and ideologies that to challenge such a system is, to them, pathetic—miserably inadequate. The show seemed like a tonic to our need to act. But now, at the close of its third season, it has revealed a secret: Action isn’t always what’s needed. Sometimes, acceptance of what has come before is more revolutionary than all the hacks in the world.

Everyone lives with the contradictions within ourselves, and when we do something wrong—when we give birth to that regret—it’s up to us not only to make it right, but to make peace with ourselves for the wrong we’ve done, and grow from the experience. No one encounters this problem more starkly than Angela. She’s forced to acknowledge the damage is done; those people who died in the 71 attacks aren’t coming back, any more than her mother can. Whiterose manipulated her into doing exactly what was needed, and the deaths were little more than a vendetta against the man who turned out to be her father. (Yes, there’s still the possibility Whiterose’s plan is real, but none of that negates the fact nobody needed to die.) It brings Angela crashing back into reality, and the one man who has played the role of Machiavellian villain this whole time ends up being the one to give her the best, and most honest, advice: “Find a way to live with what you did.”

Our memories are faulty—Elliot’s more so than most, but not by a lot—and so one of the defining moments of his life is revealed to be fool’s gold, a phony narrative that gave his life meaning and drove him to anger and resentment. The story that his father pushed him out the window pushed him forward, but it also pushed him away from who he was, and likely contributed to the fractured psyche with which he’s been at war. Because Mr Robot came to him in the image of his dead father, and that father stood in for the symbolic betrayal of the world against Elliot. He couldn’t have worked with Mr Robot even if their goals were identical. But now that he’s learned the truth, it opens the door for a harmony that couldn’t exist before. Why? Because Elliot found a way to live with what he did.

And it was Darlene who gave him that truth, and allowed him to move forward. “I’m here to remember for you,” she says, and that statement could be a motif for their relationship. Elliot inspired her to act, but she inspired him to deal with his past. In season one, it was her shocked realization that he had forgotten who she was that triggered his first confrontation with himself. She pushed him to look into the mirror and see his true life, not the one he had papered over. Darlene keeps him tethered to reality, and more than that, to human connection. Earlier, he had blamed her for his condition, and she planned to leave rather than deal with the consequences of their actions since the hack. But instead, the siblings found a way to live with each other in a new place: trust, and forgiveness for the past. 

Mr. Robot  is a grand, messy, passionate plea for placing our trust and care in the people we love, and most of all, finding that love in ourselves when it feels like the world has beaten it out of us. It’s not a particularly hip sentiment, but genuine emotion rarely is. Yes, there’s a mission to come. Yes, Elliot’s right: The one percent of the one percent revealed themselves, and now, he’s going to make them pay. That will be thrilling, and it will be complex. And we’ll still have lots of symbols and portentous allusions and paused screens to study and debate. And yes, we’ll still have regrets, right alongside the characters (of which let’s never forget, we are one). But we’ll also have genuine human connection, embodied in every time Elliot asks us if we’re seeing it, too. And that’s the only real reason to keep coming back. Source:

The third act of this episode is one of the most touching because it shows Mr. Robot and Elliot coming to a middle ground and realizing that they need to work together in order for both of them to be at their best. They both have elements of one another in them and as a result, can accomplish anything they set their mind upon. They have a great conversation with each other on the subway platform both being fully vulnerable to one another and Elliot reveals that his next move, after reversing the 5/9 hacks, is that he is planning on going after those who play God without permission and bring them all down. When Irving walks away from everything—possibly to Barbados, who knows?—his sense of justified fury is palpable. “Remember, dollface,” he tells Grant, gripping Whiterose’s latest boytoy by the chin, “I was you years ago.” What’s left of him now isn’t much. Perhaps Grant took that into consideration when he splattered his own brains all over the barn.

By now, it’s been reported that Mr. Robot is renewed for a fourth season which is reason for excitement because while this finale was a great ending to the 5/9 hacks, Stage 2 and more it also allowed for Elliot and Mr. Robot to stop fighting one another and come together and form a powerful team working towards a common goal rather than be pawns used by a shadowy omnipotent Army. I hope that Mr. Robot’s fourth season can follow and build upon the exciting storytelling they’ve managed to create in its third season. This season has been a wild ride and has marked a return to greatness for a show that seemed to slightly lose its way in the second season, but all of that doubt is washed away after this incredible run of episodes. Source:

—Deadline Hollywood: Elliot’s decision to reverse the 5/9 hack: Is this just a means to ease his own guilt after blowing up all those E-corp buildings? —Sam Esmail: Yeah, I think that with the journey of Elliot, we started the series with this guy in an immense amount of pain. Instead of facing that, he blamed it on society and externalized to the world around him what needed to be fixed. That’s what this moment in this season was about: His realization that what he wanted was not co-opted by the very people he was trying to take down; that it was wrong.  There are a few internal struggles he also faces in regards to his relationship with Mr. Robot and its evolution.

HBO Films is developing Think Aaron, based on the tragic story of “hacktivist” Aaron Swartz, from Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal’s Tribeca Productions, husband-and-wife producing duo Eric Roth and Debra Greenfield, writer Andy Bellin and director Elliott Lester. In Think Aaron, child prodigy and programming genius Swartz becomes his generation’s most important and influential “hacktivist,” a political activist using his expertise in technology to fight for open and equal access to knowledge on the Internet, only to find himself imprisoned and made an example of by the U.S. government. The subject is very timely given the ongoing net neutrality debate. Swartz was the founder of Demand Progress, which launched the campaign against the Internet censorship bills (SOPA/PIPA). He also was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS; the Markdown publishing format. He also developed website and authored the landmark analysis of Wikipedia, Who Writes Wikipedia?

In 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police on state breaking-and-entering charges for allegedly connecting a computer to the MIT network and setting it to download academic journal articles from digital library JSTOR using a guest user account issued to him by MIT. He later was charged with wire fraud and violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, carrying a maximum penalty of $1 million in fines and 35 years in prison. He committed suicide in 2013 at age of 26 while under federal indictment for his alleged computer crimes. Earlier, Swartz was the subject of an acclaimed 2014 documentary, “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.” Think Aaron reteams Tribeca Productions and HBO following their collaboration on the 2017 Emmy-nominated The Wizard of Lies, starring De Niro, which was the most watched HBO movie in 4 years, since 2013’s Behind the Candelabra. Source:

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 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.

Article 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:

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:

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: