Uploaded on Dec 26, 2010
I've got your culture shock, right here (and my own small "essay" about this four part film of Jerry, below, if you'd like)
You've possibly known of American comedian and film-maker Jerry Lewis having enormous fame and popularity in France, in particular? At least in the 20th Century?
Well, it's for real (or it was very much for real, at one time), and this priceless artifact of that love-fest has been floating about on the internet for some time. It should clear up a mystery that's baffled Americans who pay attention to this sort of older show-biz thing.
It's a recording of a performance by Lewis at the Olympia theater in Paris in 1971, in front of an audience that views him with a great deal of seriousness and respect. The audience has been "warmed-up" with various acts leading up to Monsieur Lewis coming on and performing for 40 or so minutes.
What's here is most astonishing.
Film critics have long maintained, correctly, that even many of the poorest Jerry Lewis efforts in cinema are redeemed (more or less) by his knack for camera work, narrative structure, and the reworking of narrative expectations as to achieve something entirely unexpected. He's one of the few directors who are easily labeled both too textbook and too naive - which causes the viewer to relax. It can sometimes be this very thing that leads to those bizarre moments in Jerry Lewis films that can seem shockingly sublime and inspired.
Here, however, is Lewis as live performer, in front of an apparently adoring crowd, and it's possibly a Lewis few of us in America realize existed.
These French are perfectly willing to take him as a pantomime artist of the first order - and he's more than willing to try at accommodating that expectation. He's remarkably charming, here, as well as being witty, sly, even knowingly surreal.
You might think that he's "getting away with murder" as he goes from one small bit of mimicry, goofing off, and so on, but the cumulative effect is a bit magical - they love him, he loves them back, and it's a theatrical win-win. He rises to the challenge with a great deal more grace than you might imagine if you've never seen him in this venue - this New Jersey boy isn't "doing Vegas" - he's in the City of Light.
Gone are the over-reported diatribes and anger Jerry has sometimes been known for because this audience wouldn't understand him if he were more verbal, or if he meandered into some grandstanding speech. There would be little point! He doesn't need to pretend to enjoy doing an obnoxious, cursing monologue awkwardly aimed at boozed-up U.S. casino patrons - as can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rk86oe...
As a result, all he has are his skills as a physical performer, for the most part, and it becomes apparent that, indeed, this guy that we Americans have taken for granted and grown up with is some sort of true Artiste, after all.
Lewis becomes, then, the comedian that many of us connected with and loved to see when we were small, and it's genuinely great to see how much he's enjoying himself and this sincerely delighted, appreciative audience.