Friday, December 16, 2011

He needed a father figure and Martin, he says, needed a friend.

Hey pallies, likes here's 'nother goodie for all us pallies to endulge in on our way to Dino-winter-day. From the pages of "SF Gate", the on-line presence of the San Francisco Chronicle, from correspondent Mr. David Wiegand comes news of a new documentary of Mr. Jerry Lewis airin' this Saturday night, December 17 at 8:00 EST on the Encore cable channel.

Wiegand gives a very finely crafted candid review of this new production on Mr. Lewis and his life and times. Likes as you will read below many A List pallies will be speakin' of Lewis' career, but likes of course what dudes likes us will be most interested in is what nuggets we can glean 'bout our Dino and his relationship with his partner of 10 years.

I finds it very illuminatin' that in referrin' to their relationship, as the tag of this Dino-message reports, Jerry states that "He needed a father figure" and that our most beloved Dino "needed a friend." Well, likes seems to this Dino-devotee that our Dino never ever needed anyone or anythin', but it will be intriguin' to hear Mr. Lewis' reflections his journey with our great man.

So, just a bit of a head's up 'bout this opportunity to learn more 'bout Martin and Lewis on this 16th day of our journey to Dino-winter-day and the honorin' of our ever-lovin' Dino. To read this in it's original format, likes just clicks on the tag of this Dino-message.

Thanks to Mr. David Wiegand and the pallies at SF Gate for puttin' us on to this Dino-opportunity. Dino-reportin', DMP

'Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis' TV review
David Wiegand

Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis: Documentary. 8 p.m. Sat. on Encore.

At 85, Jerry Lewis has a lot to say and, to hear him tell it in a new two-hour documentary, a lot left to do in his singular career.

"Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis," airing Saturday on the Encore cable channel, focuses almost exclusively on Lewis' eight-decade career, all but ignoring his personal life beyond his apprenticeship to his vaudevillian parents and brief interviews with three of his children who are directly involved with Lewis' work.

If you want to know about his two marriages, his various health problems over the years, his addiction to painkillers or about the 2009 death of one of his children, look elsewhere.

Yet if you want to know what Jerry Lewis is like when he's not performing, the answer is simple: It never happens. Like his dad, Danny, Lewis says he was born to entertain people, and he's done that unrelentingly since the moment he was brought onstage during one of his parents' shows to sing "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" while decked out in a miniature tuxedo. He loved the applause, but when he inadvertently kicked out a footlight and made it explode, he also made the audience explode in laughter. He liked that even better.

Filmmaker Gregg Barson has created a hagiography about Lewis' career, with testimonials to the man's comic and filmmaking genius from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Carol Burnett, John Landis, Quentin Tarantino, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Steven Spielberg, Carl Reiner and Woody Harrelson.

Seinfeld calls him the diamond of comedy. Crystal shakes his head in reverent wonder at how much shtick Lewis got away with when he played the Devil in a Broadway revival of "Damn Yankees." Richard Lewis says of the genius of his idiotic onscreen babbling, "He spoke this language that wildlife would laugh at."

They would, and we did. In fact, since the film is rich with clips from films such as "The Patsy," "The Nutty Professor" and "The Bellboy," you will find yourself laughing in spite of whatever wrongheaded idea you may have about Lewis being popular only in France. (Lewis himself says that based on fan mail alone, France ranks No. 6 on the list of nations who love him, behind such Jerry-philic outposts as the Netherlands and Germany.)

While still a teenager, Lewis broke into the business doing what was called a "record act" - comedic lip-syncing to recorded music. On July 25, 1946, he formed what would be a 10-year partnership with Dean Martin. He needed a father figure and Martin, he says, needed a friend. Their partnership is described correctly as a kind of love affair. Reiner recalls seeing them in 1947, saying their show was "hysterical mayhem."

Lewis is entirely correct when he says describes the adulation they received from fans as similar to what the Beatles encountered hitting the U.S. in the '60s. He's also correct when he says that their breakup was an equally huge moment in popular culture.

The popularity of Martin and Lewis was such that many people wondered how they could carve out individual careers for themselves. Of course, they did - Martin with several film roles and a popular TV variety show, and Lewis with a steady stream of hugely successful film comedies. Lewis' film success, however, was largely financial - he made millions for Paramount, and shrewdly ensured his own financial future when the rights to all his films returned to him after 30 years.

When it came to critical respect, though, Lewis rarely got it - at least not in the United States. As Burnett says, he's long overdue for a Kennedy Center Honor (just as she's overdue for the Mark Twain Humor Prize), but show business often fails to honor its elders until their names show up in the In Memoriam segment of the Oscars or some other awards show. Lewis says there are two things that are true in the world: Garbage gets thrown out every day, and old people are dismissed too easily or forgotten altogether.

From the moment he got on the set during the first Martin and Lewis film, "My Friend Irma," Lewis devoured information on how movies were made. He ended up directing his first film after Billy Wilder turned down the job, saying Lewis was the only person who could adequately direct his own script.

His work ethic is legendary. What may look like "hysterical mayhem" onscreen is the result of obsessive attention to every detail of a film by its star, director and writer. There's a brilliant scene in "The Patsy" where Lewis stumbles around a room, almost smashing one expensive vase after another, only to catch it each time just before it hits the floor. Lewis says he spent three weeks rehearsing that sequence and went through between 300 and 400 vases to make it work. Spielberg, a fan from childhood, lauds Lewis for inventing the video assist system, through which a director can judge a newly filmed scene on the set, without having to wait for the dailies.

Throughout the film, Lewis shares his knowledge and opinions. He knows what comedy is and what it isn't. He knows that delivery has to follow a certain beat. He also knows that every film has to have a clear structure, which causes us to wonder what "Method to the Madness" might have been if Lewis has directed it. Well, in a sense, he does, by dominating the film so completely. But the film is also a bit long and loosely structured. It's great to have such important talking heads, but after a while, they don't really contribute much new to the discussion.

What's also missing, frankly, is someone who is not a comic or a director who could have spoken with more detached authority of what Lewis has achieved in his career. Those achievements are pretty massive, yet "Method" only seems to scratch the surface.

Still, it's a start. And still, it's enough to convince you that Woody Harrelson is right: If you don't appreciate Jerry Lewis, I don't want to hang with you.

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