During the Light Festival (which took place in Lyon from 8 to 16 October 2016) Gregory Monro had come to present his new documentary, JERRY LEWIS, the CLOWN REBEL (broadcast on Arte from 18th June), which charts the journey of comedian impertinent. The opportunity to talk about this filmmaker too little recognized today, and the place it occupies among the other comic.
Who is Jerry Lewis ?
Jerry Lewis is one of the greatest comedic contemporaries. Not only american, but international, as it is very well exported. It has become a leading light of the comedy of gestures, such as have been Chaplin or Keaton, for example. It is also a film-maker. He has produced and directed a good portion of his work after his period with Dean Martin, who has made known to the general public. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were probably the biggest stars popular back in 1946. They had walked for a dozen years, and after their separation they did not know what was going to happen to the one and the other, especially Lewis. He took risks by making films.
Jerry Lewis follows in the tradition of burlesque, but what is the difference between-t-he of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Laurel and Hardy ?
Jerry Lewis is politically incorrect. It is very extreme in its gags, in his way of shooting. It is a caricature of an entire society that he depicts in his films. The feature films of Jerry Lewis were among the first to benefit from the Technicolor, which has facilitated his meeting with the public. Ca and the fact that it may be lighter than its predecessors. Chaplin and Keaton have a certain level of seriousness, while Lewis is more accessible.
In your film, several of the speakers are unable to explain why Jerry Lewis has not drilled in the United States. What is your point of view ?
The Americans do not go further than what they see, and they know it. To them, Jerry Lewis is a clown. However, when it came in France, in interviews with Robert Benayoun, we see that he knows his art on the fingertips, he knows the technique and history of cinema. Today the Americans are glimpses of his talent in comic and the cover of glory. It may be a bit of a hypocrite, but it must be remembered that it was the same with Louis de Funès in France. I will not compare with the comedy of today, but it seems to me that it has not done better since De Funès in us. It is anyway extremely difficult to do comedy, to stage gags that work. Another great director of comedy, this is Blake Edwards with The Party, masterpiece absolute, or it can make you forget the camera. It is more complicated than the drama, because it is necessary to go further. It is more technical.
The comedy is also an art of the crowd because it is easier to laugh with an audience than alone in front of a film. In your documentary, it is said that Lewis was very unfortunate when one person in the audience didn’t laugh.
It is a story told by Pierre Etaix. In the same way, Pierre Etaix was our Buster Keaton. It is known and revered in the film community, but it is a bit forgotten today. It is a tragedy not to have it recognized at its fair value. His films are great, really. (NOTE The interview was done a few days before the death of Pierre Etaix).
Your film is a good introduction for those who don’t know Jerry Lewis. You alternate between the archive footage and the interviews, but there are several moments of mash-up. This would be it not to the comical effect that occurs in the length ?
I have not done so much as that ! It was for questions of editing and pace, I didn’t have the time to put entire scenes. It is more an effect of style. Some times, I had to talk about some things, such as the collaboration of Jerry Lewis with Frank Tashlin, without me to expand more than that. The goal was to show that they have worked together, and that Tashlin put the foot in the stirrup.
Other times surprising, the back.
This is an effect typically lewisien. This is something that he would have dared to do so, according to me. The film was very written, and this burst comic came to me at a given time. It is true that people love this passage. Nobody understands what’s happening, except Jerry.
One can’t help but think back to Jim Carrey.
Absolutely. Jim Carrey for a very long time was not very comfortable with his image of new Jerry Lewis, yet it is a fact. They love each other very much, and another, and yet they had never crossed. They met there only two years to 90 years of Jerry Lewis.
I’m not going to ask you what are your favorite movies, but what would be the film of Jerry Lewis the most affordable for a novice ?
I’d like to mention two or three. If there was only one, this would be The Zany Hollywood. It is the one that summarizes the most Lewis is very accessible. We could also mention The Crazy of the Palace, which has aged a bit, but that remains a tribute to Stan Laurel. Generally his work may seem dated, but I’d like to add also Tombeur of these Ladies and, of course, and Dr. Jerry and Mister Love , which is perhaps the most modern. The subject of the split personality is still very current.
What are the less property ?
Oh no ! No. There is necessarily less property, but I no longer remember the titles. There are also the films that he has not realized. Some are very good and very beautiful, especially those with Frank Tashlin. If you really want to have an idea of who is Jerry Lewis, one can look at a that he made that I quoted, and then The Waltz of the Puppets of Martin Scorsese.
Jerry Lewis said in your documentary that’s critically appreciated in The Waltz of the Puppets because it was a role that was more serious. It was a regret on his part ?
No, I think not. I do not think that this is a man who regrets. He does not regret anything and he was right. He works for the public, and the public has captured it. Jerry Lewis has a true generosity. To put his own money, to pay for the plane tickets to come to the team to make his first film, is that he was pushed by something. It’s also important not to forget that he was a man of the stage. He has done a lot of one-man-show,sometimes at the Olympia, and was always in contact with the public. It continues today in meetings that he made with people. He feels very concerned by the public, such as De Funès. De Funès was very distressed by the public.
How many times have you set out to make the film ? Where will it be distributed ?
The project is launched for almost two years. This will be broadcast on Arte beginning 2017. It was presented recently at the Festival of Telluride in the United States, and I realized that the same generations the unfamiliar. The most beautiful comment that I’ve made, it’s ” I don’t like Jerry Lewis, but I loved your film “. I’ve tried to be measured in the way, and to have a point of view. I will go soon to the Festival of Haifa in Israel and I am very eager to see their reaction.
Interview by Alexander Léaud October 10, 2016