Sunday, February 22, 2009


It's perhaps worth mentioning that I'm on vacation this week, which means posting around here may be even more erratic than it has been lately. I've got things to do, and perhaps even places to go, so no way of knowing whether I'll be frequenting this space much. I guess we'll find out, won't we?

Anyway, the Oscars are tonight, and mostly I couldn't care less, but hey, they're giving one of those honorary "Sorry we've ignored you but we're glad you're not dead" awards to Jerry Lewis, and I always tune in to all things Lewis-related. I admit it: I'm a fan.

I used to think my appreciation for Lewis was ironic, somewhat akin to my fondness for bad seventies variety shows, but that's not true. For one thing, when he's on, Lewis is absolutely, side-splittingly funny. And all those claims auteurists have made about his genius as a filmmaker? They're true. Admittedly, he's never made a movie that was an artistically successful whole--and his self-directed efforts tend to be notably light on laughs--but it's hard to deny his sharp visual sense, his masterful deep-focused compositions, brilliant staging and razor-sharp editing skills.

Of course, Lewis wasn't a born auteur; he learned how to do it from one of the best comedy directors of all time, Frank Tashlin. Manohla Dargis writes about this scene from Cinderfella at some length in her excellent piece on Lewis in today's New York Times, but I would just add that, the jaw-dropping brilliance of Lewis' performance aside (honestly, I could watch him spazz dance all day...and sadly, I have), the formal brilliance of this scene is obvious. That dazzling shot from the top of the staircase, the couples parting as Lewis descends, the camera gliding along Lewis and Anna Maria Alberghetti as they zip madly across the floor, the camera's sly retreat as the two assume a more romantic form, swallowed by the crowd, Lewis' final mad dash up the stairs as those ominous balloons descend--if Vincente Minnelli ever directed a Jerry Lewis vehicle, it would have looked exactly like this.