When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

25 February 2009

A certain kind of American exuberance bordering on the grotesque

Manohla Dargis writes film criticism like Grant Achatz cooks or Annie Leibovitz takes pictures. Hers is a byline I look forward to with pleasure; you know you're going to read someone at the top of their game.

I can't believe I just found this (as a pretty determined fan of both writer and subject), but over the weekend, the Sunday New York Times ran a long and lovingly written article (by Ms. Dargis) about Jerry Lewis, on the occasion of his receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at this year's Oscars:
It’s hard not to wonder if all that frantic energy, which suggested his vast ambition and had a whiff of desperation, is what repulsed so many. It doesn’t help that comedies, cartoons and children’s movies rarely receive the respect they deserve here, even in Hollywood, which is generally too busy taking itself seriously to notice the comic geniuses it its midst, especially those who hold up a mirror to the industry’s own vulgarity. Mr. Lewis has never been one to let bad taste stand in the way of his art. He embodied a certain kind of American exuberance bordering on the grotesque. He was likable and a bit pathetic, but he was also a little scary: you never knew when he might go off. He helped make comedy dangerous.

Resistance takes many forms, and sometimes all it takes to push back — against the guardians of good taste and those gatekeepers of the social order who keep skinny kids who looked like Jerry Lewis from joining their club — is a well-timed pratfall, a bit of slapstick, a yowl. In 1963 Mr. Lewis directed his masterpiece,
“The Nutty Professor.” As the bucktoothed scientist Professor Kelp and the scientist’s chemically induced alter ego, a lounge lizard called Buddy Love, Mr. Lewis embodies two seemingly contradictory impulses, characters who alternately seduce and repulse. Buddy Love is often taken to be a parody of Martin, though it has been suggested that he bears close resemblance to the real Mr. Lewis.
Hey, Laaaady! It's the King of Comedy (Manohla Dargis, New York Times, 19 Feb 2009)

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