Artists on Artists #4


Fernando said...

Is there anywhere I could find the entire interview? Seeing things like this makes me feel wistful that I was born too late to experience a time when people like Godard were guests on late-night TV.

justjack said...

I dunno. I get that Jerry's development of the video assist is a technical advancement that deserves recognition. I also get that he is [at least at times] funny, and is capable of putting together some very funny set pieces. But story? editing? directing?

Godard suggests that Jerry is working within a set frame the way Chaplin used to do (btw I note that it took him a heckuva long time to get to a specific reason that Jerry deserves praise). But isn't that a negation of the very medium of film? A holdover from the very earliest days of moviemaking where a camera would essentially be set up in front of a stage, and the actors would recreate a play? Does that make every class clown a genius also because they can successfully crack wise onstage during a high school production of Bye Bye Birdie, while Dad films it statically from seat H28?

I don't want to get too wound up about this, because I like Jerry Lewis himself, and I think that he himself is a funny character; The Bell Boy is a funny movie, too, but like as not that's because there isn't even an attempt to tell a story, and most of the scenes avoid running on too long.

But at the same time I'm not sure I buy Godard's contention that Jerry deserves especial honor because he's somehow working in a retrograde style associated with the earliest, primitive era of moviemaking (As Bill Holden sez in Sunset Boulevard, "most people don't realize movies are written by a writer. They think the actors are just making it up"). Heck, by that logic I could argue that Jerry should be criticized for not building himself a Black Maria and filming inside of that. Boy, then he'd really be getting back to basics.

Thoughtprovoking clip, TS. Thanks!

Fred said...

Tom, thank you for posting this. One of the great things about the Internet is the ability to see things I missed because I was too young to watch it, like the Dick Cavitt Show. And to see Godard being interviewed by Dick is a great pleasure. By the way, I may not agree with the French over many things, but they were right about Jerry Lewis as a great filmmaker. It is interesting to note that the film Godard mentions, the Day the Clown Cried, was universally condemned b/c of its subject matter, yet two decades later, Life is Beautiful won all the awards, despite the fact that its subject matter was pretty much the same, while being historically accurate.

Max Allan Collins said...

The use of color, breaking the fourth wall, long takes, and injections of surrealism (particularly absurdist cartoon moments, inspired by his mentor Tashlin) make up just a handful of the reasons Lewis is an important, even great filmmaker. Can anyone seriously posit the notion that there is no difference between how a visually astute artist fills a frame and how a camera set in front of a stage records a play? I realize there is a knee-jerk reaction against Lewis, particularly by those who did not grow up with him (and Martin & Lewis). But I feel confident that THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and THE LADIES' MAN are among the great film comedies and will survive alongside Keaton, Chaplin, Fields and the Marx Brothers.

And doesn't Cavett come off as dismissively smug (of both Lewis and Godard) here?

Sock MonKey 1 said...

Yes, Cavett does come off that way, Max Allan. Why doesn't he just say, "most Americans are Philistines who don't give a flip about art"?

When I was a kid, I'd get really excited whenever a Martin-Lewis would open. Finally, I give him a lot of points for featuring the Count Basie Orchestra so prominently in "Cinderfella".

justjack said...

Max Allan, I definitely forgot about The Ladies' Man. That's one on me.

You make a better case for Jerry Lewis than Godard did. Even so, I don't think of Jerry Lewis as working in long takes. They feel more like he just doesn't know when to say cut when he's on the set, or where to snip the footage when he's in the editing room.

I'm glad you mentioned Frank Tashlin. I totally love the opening sequence of "The Girl Can't Help It." Now, there's some absurdity! But I don't see that same kind of control and energy in similar scenes in Jerry's movies. The gym sequence from The Nutty Professor, for instance.

I hope it's clear that I don't totally dismiss Jerry Lewis out of hand. I particularly love the Martin and Lewis movies, and there's lots of bits and pieces from Jerry's solo movies that I enjoy too. But there aren't a whole lot of complete films of his that I think of as great.

Tom Sutpen said...


I love Dick Cavett, but throughout that interview his worst, most middlebrow side came to the fore a few times; as if to say, "Look at this devitalized caricature of a European intellectual I have on my hands here. Isn't he something, folks?"

There was a bit of score-settling involved as well. Godard had recently said something mildly critical of Woody Allen's 'Manhattan' and, loyal friend that he apparently is, Cavett thought he would take Godard to the cultural woodshed in return by hitting him with the 'What's Up With the French and Jerry Lewis?' canard. You know, embarrass the guy, make him look like an intellectual bozo who doesn't know lowbrow comedy when it's hitting him in the face like a custard pie.

That was the idea, anyway, but Godard's defense of Lewis is so spot-on and unapologetic and righteous (as it should have been) that I'm frankly amazed it made the broadcast.