What follows below is an extract from critic Barrett Hodsdon's new critical study titled The Elusive Auteur. There will be a separate following post devoted to details of the book and where you can obtain a copy. Barrett writes "By way of explanation, this section occurs in the part of the book where I classify, under 5 categories, 15 classic director-auteurs. The intention was to position these filmmakers into the work relations and real politique of Hollywood under the old monolith of the Studio system. The purpose was to highlight the ability of these filmmakers to manoeuvre or not within the system or, in the case of the “Mavericks or Outcasts”, to react against the system. The other key auteurs in this category are Von Sternberg, Welles, Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller. I also try to briefly reference their abstract status as auteurs."
I am very grateful to Barrett for the privilege of publishing this extract from his major new critical study. The numbers in the text refer to the book's footnotes.
Jerry Lewis – Triumphant Comic/Idiosyncratic Auteur
“I am multi-faceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius. I have an IQ of 190 – that's supposed to be a genius. People don’t like that. The answer to all my critics is simple. I like me. I like what I’ve become. I am proud of what I’ve achieved, and I don’t really believe I’ve scratched the surface yet.”
(Looking back on more than 60 years of show business) – “I was about as discreet as a bull – taking a piss in your living room." (72)
“His life has been a continuous parade of public and private faces, some the world has loved, while others have been universally loathed.” “Jerry acknowledged all the conflicts of his life – the gaps between Jester, Thinker, and Private Man. He, more than anyone else, knew that behind the clown, the showman, the director, the philanthropist, stood another person altogether – “the real” Jerry Lewis.”
“Yet love it or hate it, Jerry’s best work is the product of a completely unique sensibility.” (73)
|Jerry Lewis at 90|
|Lewis as Buddy Love (with Stella Stevens) The Nutty Professor|
|Lewis, Dean Martin|
Lewis developed an ‘idiot boy’ character that violated the bounds of performance linked to normal emotional reactions. His performance traits were a repertoire of exaggerated and demeaning physical responses - gauche, literal and asexual behavioral interaction with people – resulting in an extreme character confinement that was an odd comic phenomenon when set beside the suave Latinate lover image of Dean Martin, as the straight man of the duo. Relative to Lewis’s repressed ego, this was only part of the Lewis story, which he moved to rectify when he went solo as a performer and finally as a director. But he still reprised the limitations of his former comic incarnation while also refining the image to one of innocence, breaking out into displays of self-confidence (as manifested in his remarkable directorial oeuvre for Paramount in the early '60s), and culminating in the extremity of his schismatic and schizoid performance in The Nutty Professor. Through the conduit of Lewis’s longstanding entertainment persona he found himself in an unusual position (under a major studio rubric) of having the freedom to explore his highly personal concerns and idiosyncrasies as an actor cum director on his own account. He broke the boundaries of classic comic form to toy with illusion and reality gag structures possessing abstract undertones. This was achieved through Lewis’s keen sense of formal invention in realizing his bumbling and inept characterizations, and structuring his gags around them.
|Lewis, publicity still for The Bellboy|
Ultimately, Lewis’s oeuvre represented a series of paradoxes reflected in his actual career trajectory (and its fluctuations), and how his oeuvre correlated with his self- perception as comedian, entertainment celebrity and unfettered directorial expression. These paradoxes can be reduced to a set of antinomies-:
- Cultural phenomenon versus directorial ambition.
- Compulsive idiosyncrasy versus public acceptance.
- Regressive behavior versus indulgent egoism.
- Comic master versus transgressive obscurantism.
|Lewis, The King of Comedy|