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'The Man Behind the Clown' shows Jerry Lewis as more than a comic

by Rosalie Atkinson | The Frame

Jerry Lewis on the set of his 1972 film, "The Day the Clown Cried." Owen Franken

Most people know Jerry Lewis as a comedian and actor, but he was also accomplished behind the camera.

In the documentary, “The Man Behind The Clown,” French filmmaker Gregory Monro takes a look at Lewis’ struggle to be taken seriously as a director.  

The film premiered at the 2016 Telluride Film Festival. The Frame host John Horn spoke with Monro then about why he chose to focus on this part of Lewis’ career.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On shifting the focus of his documentary:

I explained very quickly that I was focused on him as a filmmaker, rather than a comic. He is both, but I'm more interested in this because I think that, here in America, people don't have Jerry Lewis, the filmmaker, in mind. The author, the director, the producer, the technician — he was all that. So I was really focused on this immediately. I hadn't had to convince him, actually. He was okay with this. He's very grateful that someone could tell his story with that point-of-view, of him mainly having struggled with the fact that he became a filmmaker. That was also the beginning of his struggle in the United States.

On Lewis' quote, "The American critics are full of s---. They have no idea what I'm doing. They never have.":

He has always been, from my point of view and maybe his, misunderstood in the United States. More by the film critics, than the public. He had a tremendous success here at the box office. But as far as the critics, I think they didn't get the fact that Jerry Lewis becomes a filmmaker. He's not only a comic, he's all that. He's a complex artist, but he's a great artist.

On visiting Lewis at his home in Las Vegas:

I had no questions, I had only pictures to show him. So I brought pictures from France and I wanted him to react to the pictures. From there we could start our conversation. Of course, these are the pictures from a big part of his life. I showed him photos of his father, of Dean MartinI like the pictures of Jerry Lewis with a camera, a 35-millimeter camera. I really like that one. I think he says, "That's the love of my life." He was in love with filmmaking. He was such a great technician; he knew everything on the craft.

On Lewis inventing the "video assist":

That's a monitor which allows you to [see] what you just shot [on film]. For a director and actor, it also allows him to watch what he is doing. Today, everybody uses that. But Jerry Lewis was the first to use this.

On Lewis' appearance in Martin Scorsese's "The King of Comedy":

He's not acting, actually, in that movie. Jerry always say he didn't do anything, he just said his lines and that's it. But the critics, they responded to that. Frank Krutnik, the film critic in the documentary, says it very well. He said, "The critics reacted as if they've never seen Jerry Lewis before." Meaning comedy is not sufficient, comedy is not serious. You're not a great actor when you're a comic. That's a pity because you are a great actor when you're a comic because it's a lot of work.

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