Jerry Lewis, Claudette Colbert

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It’s a big week for Jerryphiles, with the release of both Chris Fujiwara’s excellent new monograph on Lewis from the Unveristy of Illinois Press, and the appearance of “The Jerry Lewis Show” from Infinity Entertainment — a two-disc collection of sketches culled from Lewis’s largely forgotten (and since largely unseen) NBC series of 1967-69.  Also, a look at Jerry’s fellow Paramount contract player (how’s that for a transition?) Claudette Colbert, via a well produced but not terribly exciting collection of six of her films from Universal.   The relevant text is here in the New York Times.

320 comments to Jerry Lewis, Claudette Colbert

  • edo

    Well, the only time I’ve noticed Bazin speak of perspective is in the ONTOLOGY piece, where he deems it the original sin of painting! I think, for Bazin, the equivalent of linear perspective in the language of cinema is analytical editing, which in the EVOLUTION piece he figures as montage taken in a realist direction, thus producing an inauthentic realism, a dramatic realism, rather than an authentic realism open to the continuum of life.

    Maybe the important difference between depth of field in cinema and depth of field in painting is that things move, so that the director can produce a set of relations that is more ambiguous, and less like Panofsky’s symbolic form. For Bazin, it’s clear that Welles’s use of depth of field opens up this possiblity, more than, say, Ford’s use of depth of field in STAGECOACH which is always subsumed back into a decoupage scheme.

    You can also have depth of focus in a photograph without a clear vanishing point. That is, you can have depth of focus with a telephoto lens so that you get a more planar composition with stacks or layers. Hou stages like this.

  • edo

    So does Kurosawa.

    The Bazinian spatial relations I see in ZODIAC are things like that great great opening sequence where the trajectories of the killer’s note and Graysmith are interweave. This is also achieved by the cutting, but there’s no clear ‘symbolic’ purpose to it all. It’s not as if Graysmith is being likened to the letter or the letter to Graysmith. It’s more about how an enigma is about to cut through the normal order of this world, rearranging its players.

  • Kent Jones

    Edo, I was speaking somewhat rhetorically, but I guess that the term “spatial relations” seems a little misleading to me. As I see it, Bazin was more concerned with the psychology of the image and of film grammar than anything else. Meanwhile, when I read about “Bazinian spatial relations,” I often feel like the concept has drifted kind of far from Bazin.

  • edo

    Did you see my post quoting Bazin on this very point? I agree with you. Completely.

  • Kent Jones

    Yes Edo, I noted that post privately but not publicly. Extremely relevant to the topic at hand.

  • edo

    Not looking for validation, just acknowledgment of the shared point about psychology and film grammar. I was using “spatial relations” after Dave’s use of the term in reference to Zemeckis. I think the important thing here is that Fincher has what Bazin would probably have identified as a healthy impulse: to create a kind of realism, or at least a kind of authenticity that preserves a sense of ontological mystery and the dark obscurity of time’s passage. Like CITIZEN KANE, ZODIAC certainly does that, and hauntingly so.

  • Kent Jones

    Edo, let’s just say that we agree on the matter.

    ZODIAC is a very haunting film – something about the “presentness” of the past, which jibes with what you’re saying. Regarding the passage of time, wait till you get to the final stretch of BENJAMIN BUTTON.

  • edo

    Kent, let me just apologize if I misinterpreted the tone of your last couple comments. It’s often so hard to tell where people are coming from on this board, or any other for that matter.

    Looking forward to the rest of BB.

  • Kent Jones

    Yes, interpreting tone is like trying to listen to whispering through a brick wall.

  • Kent Jones

    And no apologies necessary.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Everyone seems to have moved on to Kurosawa, Dostoyevsky and sitcoms on the new thread, but I’ve finally had a chance to go through and ponder all the commentary on this topic from last weekend. In regards to Kent’s “Gregg, with due respect” query of 12.05.09 @ 3:53 pm, he argues “photographic verisimilitude is now a choice rather than a necessary condition. Yes, that affects the way we reckon with the image. Yes, it means that it is now possible to fabricate a “documentary” image. But are these changes really so difficult to adapt to?” I’d like to again make the point that if verisimilitude is no longer a necessary condition, we can no longer assume it in ANY documentary image (and note that I didn’t put any quotes around the word “documentary”). This break with a shared, documentable reality is of enormous import, which is already affecting how we perceive the world around us. Witness the front page of last Sunday’s NYT’s report about how a faked video of Tiger Woods’ wife chasing him with a golf club is now being peddled as news (or at least as “news”). I’ve also read that the prosecution in an European murder case created a video that helped convict the accused, by viusally presenting the prosecution’s theory about what happened. The possibility that no one will believe real images (note no quotes around the word real), and/or accept fabricated images as real is upon us.

    Of course, there were faked motion pictures going back to the “newsreels” of the sinking of the Maine in 1898. But it was once possible to produce photographs and movie film that were witnessed and accepted as real. This will be harder under the new dispensation.

    So far as fiction film goes, I appreciate the commentary on Mann, Fincher, Hou and others. The long term effect on cinema of abandoning the signified in favor of endless manipulations of the signifier is hard to predict, but a cinema built around the fact that “everything can be altered, from the size of a room to the objects within it. Or, that a take can be altered so that a reaction is shortened. Or that an actor’s face from one take can be merged with his/her body from another” is far from the interest in human behavior that has driven film’s greatest achievements. This interest goes back at least as far as the use of close-ups by Griffith, Guy and others in the teens to “photograph thought.” Or further, to the interest in Lumiere and his followers in opening the shutter on reality. I’ve always liked both the Melies and the Lumiere traditions in cinema, but overall I prefer the great tradition exemplified by Renoir, Ozu, Bresson to the finest fantasy films.

  • Gregg Rickman

    And Renoir himself made some of the finest films in BOTH traditions, as his work from THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL through to PICNIC ON THE GRASS is fantasy film as its best.

  • Gregg, I think you’ve put this well – while making your own aesthetic preference known, which is your perfect right! – there are two traditions: the realistic (in the Bazinian sense) and the artificial. But in the general balance of serious discussion on film (here as everywhere) artifice is ALWAYS rated far, far below a certain kind of “photographic observation” (however artful) of human affairs. There is never enough counterbalance to the Bazinian legacy ! (Which, by the way, I don’t think quite corresponds to what the guy himself actually wrote, because artifice was another of his interests, certainly.) Actually, I think it was my high regard, early on in my cinephile life, for Durgnat that got me thinking about an “equal weighting” to the artifice tradition in cinema. But his working atiitude was, and still is, rare among most critics.

  • Kent Jones

    Gregg, I’m glad that you felt compelled to stick with this.

    Here’s what I think. Just because something is now a choice rather than a necessity, does that necessarily mean that people are going to leave reality behind? I don’t think so. First of all, as you say, the alteration of images is a very old story. And, as you admit, your preference for reality-based cinema over fantasy-based cinema – a preference I share, by the way – is, after all, a preference. However, I don’t believe that the fear of stepping onto a slippery slope, at the bottom of which lies a bed of post-modern, relativistic image fabrication, is well-founded. For the simple reason that there’s a tacit understanding of and agreement over the recording of unvarnished reality. After all, if someone is writing a book, they can make any old claim about anyone or anything, and that’s been true for a long time, much longer than photography and cinema have been alive. There’s been plenty of falsification, but why hasn’t there been more of it? Because it’s not really in the general interest. In my experience, falsehoods are generally propagated through speeches or word of mouth by people with a measure of power over others, and their purpose is invariably economic in nature. The whole WMD myth would be a terrific example. Apart from the political and business spheres, I don’t see any evidence of a mass migration away from a shared understanding of the concepts of truth and reality, photographic or otherwise.

    Ironically, a lot of this discussion was based on two movies that are intensely preoccupied not with fantasy but verisimilitude. As Edo pointed out, Mann shot PUBLIC ENEMIES in all the actual locations. And Fincher was not inventing dreamscapes with ZODIAC but meticulously recreating the locations in question down to the most minute details (for instance, a non-digital detail: whenever you see a newspaper in the film, it’s a complete re-print of the actual dated paper – that’s Stroheim-level realism). On top of which, the subject of the movie is the painstaking verification, across a couple of pre-digital decades, of the identity of a killer.

    Adrian, I think you’re absolutely right about Bazin, who is generally misinterpreted to begin with. Meanwhile, you’ve spotlighted one of Ray Durgnat’s many virtues.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Adrian and Kent – Thanks for the comments. Photographic proof will be less accepted than it is now when it becomes infinitely malleable. At some point we’re all going to have to delve into Bazin to greater depths than is possible in a blog.

    Glad to see Raymond Durgnat getting some recognition; he was always outside of every mainstream. Like Andrew Britton, wasn’t he something of an academic gypsy?

  • Kent Jones

    Gregg, photographic proof is instantly malleable now, but somehow we’re all getting by.

    I believe that Durgnat was a gypsy. He left behind a lot of interesting material, most notably 800 pages or so on Michael Powell.

  • edo

    Amen, Kent. I would also add that in a certain sense it was always a choice. As Hitchcock put it, Disney had the right idea about actors. When he didn’t like a performance, he could just tear it up.

    I think the idea that Bazin favored realism in the pedantic sense of verisimilitude is partially a result of his polyvalent uses of the actual term. In one and the same essay, he can use it as a generic description of a style, as when he speaks of “the stark somber realism, or poetic realism” of thirties French cinema, and then use it in a more ambiguous sense a few pages later in reference to the “temporal realism” he sees as a possibility opened up by KANE or PAISA.

    At the same time, as Kent has already noted, people too often make his claims out to be statements as to the nature of film itself, rather than the nature of films and what they might do. In “The Virtues and Limitations of Montage”, he specifically states that his concern is the “aesthetic ontology” of cinema rather than its basic ontology. It’s a balancing act, as of course the latter has in some sense to be acknowledged as conditioning the former, but I think het gets it, especially here:

    “It would be a betrayal of Lamorisse’s films…to call them works of pure fiction. Their believability is undoubtedly tied in with their documentary value. The events they portray are partially true. The countryside of the Camargue, the lives of the horse-breeders and the fishermen, the habits of the herds, constitute the basis for the story of CRIN BLANC, providing a firm and unshakable support for the myth. But it is precisely on this reality that a dialectic belonging to the realm of the imaginary, and interestingly symbolized by the use of doubles for CRIN BLANC, is founded. Thus Crin Blanc is at one and the same time a real horse that grazes on the salty grass of the Camargue and a dream horse swimming eternally at the side of little Folco. Its cinematic reality could not do without its documentary reality, but if it is to become a truth of the imagination, it must die and be born again from reality itself.”

    This jibes nicely with Peter’s invocation of FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON. In fact, I think Hou’s film addresses itself more directly to what Bazin is talking about than Lamorisse’s LE BALLON ROUGE or CRIN BLANC, because Hou is more self-reflexive and aware in his use of film’s in-between state, its liminality by quite consciously problematizing our interface with an aperture-world. There’s always this question in Hou’s work: how can I establish a new reality out of a medium which is fundamentally unstable, exposed to time?

    And Bazin’s example of the multiple horses used to establish the ‘firm and unshakable support’ of the myth of Crin Blanc puts me in mind of Fincher’s use of multiple actors to incarnate the Zodiac. Or the surreal effects Mann achieves in the Biograph where there’s this dialectic between two different kinds of material presence. A hi-definition world is watching itself on film.

  • Kent Jones

    Nice quote from Bazin, Edo. I guess one could say that there’s been an abundant amount of time spent on the “real horse” and not quite enough time spent on the “dream horse” in discussions of Bazin.

    Even more striking in ZODIAC is the fact that the first male victim, essentially the guy who opens and closes the film, is played by two different actors, Lee Norris at the beginning and Jimmi Simpson at the end.

  • Ben

    “No one has ever spent so much time finding so many ways to not tell a story.”

    What a great line, Kent! That’s what I love about Godard. I cannot agree more.

  • I don’t think anyone has mentioned this (I tried to read all the comments but I’m afraid I just couldn’t make it! It’s my own fault): when Ben Gazzara appeared in the Jerry Lewis Show DVD, my first thought was “he’s the Dean Martin character.” And then Gazzara and Lewis did a skit that I saw on an old Colgate Comedy Hour with Martin and Lewis… I mean, the exact same skit. It made me feel funny. A smart person could analyze all the layers of art and pathos and meaning and get back to me.