Sunday, December 28, 2008

Jerry Lewis at High Noon

If you are like me, and you think that Jerry Lewis is never more fascinating than in the last ten seconds before his blows his stack, then RUN do not walk to where you can find a precious single episode of Jerry's legendary 1963 variety series.
It was two hours long and done live without any sign of a script with a distinctly nervous Jerry Lewis acting as host (and occasionally as house singer) in a Jack Paar style format before a live audience.
It is to say the least a bold improvisional experiment and a crackpot whim rolled up into one interminable and poorly blocked package.
What exactly gave Lewis the notion to do such a long show live is a complete mystery. No doubt he had a bracing faith in his own ad-lib abilities going back to his partnership with singer Dean Martin. Maybe Jerry was envious of the largely improvisioned rat-pack shows which was then packin' em' in at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.
Ah but back in the day Lewis had Martin to anchor the act and give pacing and direction to the younger comics's many flights of fancy. And if that didn't work, Dean would sing and give everyone a break from Jerry.
Wisely, Jerry didn't work alone on this show opting for a dour Phil Foster as his one air sidekick, serious TV buffs will recall Foster's star turn as Penny Marshall's father on "Laverne and Shirley". Here though, Foster is simply a glowering ethnic foil who looks like he'd dearly love to bust a chair over Jerry's head. Their on air banter has all the charm and ease of hostage negotiations in Beirut.
Moreover in one hundred and three minutes not ONE comedy sketch can be seen, not one, Jerry's signature format and it is not being used at all. Frankly the artistic decisions as they play out on air seem demented.
So of course the show was an expensive flop, already cancelled at the time of this particular broadcast a fact that Lewis shares with the audience about every ten minutes as the program trudges on and on.
A bitter patina invades the whole program despite a glittering roster of guests including soprano Patricia Munsel, Sam Cook and a pre Muhammad Ali Cassius Clay who was trying to the convince the whole world that he was both crazy and invincible in the lead up to the legendary fight with Sonny Liston.
That particular interview with Jerry is a veritable wince-fest, Lewis is in a manic state by this point in the program and inadvertently he makes Clay looks judicious and wise as he the host rants on and on about the boxer's blustery showmanship.
Ali would later read a poem prophesying neatly his victory over Liston, it is the program's only truly funny moment in a hundred and three minutes of bug eyed mishaugas.
In short a mess my friends...very much a mess.
But it is also a lonely sign post to his career, already Jerry had completed his best film "The Nutty Professor" and would begin a long and ultimately unsuccessful search for a new comic persona to supplant his tired "anthro-child on crack" act. He and the zeitgeist were rapidly parting company never to reunite, and this program is a good indication of how badly Jerry had misjudged his audience's taste and patience.
Lenny Bruce had a great routine about a schleppy goyisher comedian named Frank Dell who thought he'd reach the big time if only he could play the Palladium Theater in London. Of course he bombs but on his last night drenched in flop sweat he starts shreking "Kill the Irish" at the audience causing a riot and his own deportation from England.
It is that kind of flop sweat I got off of Jerry in this DVD, trapped on stage, no script, the audience glaring at him and all he can do snarl at Phil Foster or lecture a bemused Muhammad Ali on "showmanship" the very quality his own damn show was lacking.
I heartily wish that all the episodes of this unique TV series were available on DVD< there is much to be learned from all of them.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thanks Dan (Grabauskas)

From Clarendon Street in the Back Bay to Arlington Heights in ONLY two hours and fifteen minutes tonight!!!!
The sadistic and glacial pace of the Red Line was one thing, but you topped yourself with the giant cluster-f*ck traffic snarl in the Alewife station parking garage...sheer genius, I didn't want to eat dinner at a normal hour or go to the gym tonight or anything. I'd much rather sit in my freezing cold car burning my personal gasoline WAITING for forty plus minutes to clear the usual exit bottlenecks Fresh Pond.
One harsh lesson I have to learn and then re-learn every damn winter, and that is one good snowstorm and the MBTA is knocked for a loop like a deadbeat jobber...and the grim litany of slow-downs, stoppages and plain old crapulous service lingers for weeks at a time.
Thanks Dan, I could have WALKED to Alewife faster save for the prospect of contracting frostbite on this freezing cold night!

Happy freakin' holidays from the MBTA, cattle bound for the slaughterhouse have better expectations of timeliness.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Zack and Miri make a Porno" (2008)

D'ye know what I like about director Kevin Smith?
He is so charmingly naive about almost everything.
FORGET the New jersey posturing and the casual vulgarities, Smith really thinks Jay and Silent Bob live rich full lives, he truly believes that the Plenary Indulgence has a power in this world and beyond, Ben Affleck as a single father of a young daughter? A slam dunk in every way.
And fat guys in Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen as long as they can pump out the snarkage they will never want for beautiful feminine companionship...honestly what color is the sky in Kevin Smith's world?
And in the end it is sheer belief that sustains "Zack and Miri make a Porno" in which a tubby vulgarian played by Seth Rogen convinces his rare hawtie room-mate BFF Elizabeth Banks that they can stave off eviction and homlessness by producing and starring in their own amateur pornography.
All that is missing is Tinkerbelle and the fairy dust.
Oh it is a funny movie by all means, with a strong supporting turn from Jason Mewes who proves he can handle himself outside his "Jay and Silent Bob" persona, that kid could have a real career on his hands if he starts making good creative decisions sez I. The rest of the cast including Clerks alum Jeff Anderson all caper and spew expletives with great assurance...but the film's central conceit, that the only way to woo and bed your life partner is by co-producing a stroke flick with her is blissfully and even idiotically innocent.
I laughed and enjyed this film greatly but I truly dread the day when Kevin Smith is finally horsewhipped by reality, some ineffable will be lost that day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bettie Page, RIP

Sometimes it is best to believe the legend...Bettie Page had a hard life regardless of the pleasure her bondage and cheesecake pictures gave two successive generations. Three divorces, a long stay in a mental hospital and allegations of childhood molestation....sad stuff really.
On the other hand, name a single American Icon that had a such a vigorous cultural revival while languishing in what amounted to a padded cell?

I'm glad she was able to derive some income from the sudden renewal of interest in her cheesecake days, so many other pin up girls from that era got bupkiss.
Ah but Bettie was special, an early avatar of the still un-studied phenom of "geek erotica", fetish models, erotic comics, pornographic anime and a host of other fringe sexual interests that impact and then bounce off the mainstream quite regularly. She ha the god fortune to enjoy a vigorous revival when geek culture was becoming a big business in America.
Bettie, despite her many bondage photo shoots back in the 1950's would probably be one of the tamer items in that notional geek erotica catalogue. this would account for her ubiquitous presence on the internet from the git-go...fetishy enough but still fully dressed for the most part...a million primitive web pages were launched under the banner of the above photo.
Well rest in peace Bettie, hard times or not you are an icon whether you like it or not...hope someone mourns you as a person though.