Friday, January 12, 2018

Waves of Regret and Waves of Joy

U2 is my favorite band of all-time.

Let me say that up front, which, to anyone that knows me, having to even say that is about as redundant and unnecessary as saying “hello my name is Matt.”

I have seen them in concert multiple times.  I have “camped out” in the freezing cold to see them.  I have been the first in line to see them out of 14,000 people.  I got on the radio for that one.

I have Bono and Larry’s autograph in a framed poster.  (I met them before a show)

I have written articles on them and even done a lengthy presentation on their religious beliefs for church.

I have read books about them and often know (frustratingly so) more than the authors that wrote them. 

I know a bit about the band and I am a fan.

That not only hasn’t changed, it likely never will. 

I am 43 years old now.   For 31 years this band has been MY band.  So its unlikely at my age another band will come along and captivate me like they did when I was 12 and listening to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” with my sister, hovering around my grandparents tape player like it was the single best song I had ever heard.  (I suppose it was)

I understand that they are divisive.  Despite being the biggest active rock band in the world for longer than any band could make that claim, some people just can’t stand them.  I can understand that; sort of.

I suppose I can understand if they simply don’t care for Edge’s guitar style.  Why they get annoyed with Bono as a person and activist I truly don’t get, but fine, “shut up and sing,” as simple minded as that all seems.  If you know Bono only from a further distance, as a “character,” then yes I get that as well.   

But as popular as they have been for so long now, I still find myself defending their work.  As in, “How can you not think No Line On The Horizon is a great album? It’s only because they have been around forever!  Imagine this was their first or second album.  Compare it to their first or second album, now tell me it’s not fantastic.”

We will naturally get tired of anything that has been around for a very long time.  The Simpsons did a whole episode on this, where they talked about how no matter how high the level of material is, after so many years people will simply want to turn the channel.

I imagine fans of Beethoven were probably complaining about his 9th Symphony not sounding like his 5th. 

In 2014 U2 released Songs of Innocence, a fantastic album by what I feel should be anyone’s standards, much less for a band’s 13th well into their 4th decade.  U2 songs still matter.  Think of the last great Rolling Stones song.  Quick, tell me. 

Even a radio disc jockey that is not a big fan once noted, “U2 is the only band of their era that plays their new songs in concert and people want to hear them.  I have seen it.  They are the only ones.”

Always highly regarded for their live shows, their tour for the SOI album would feel to some people to be their best since their legendary Zoo TV shows. 

Then late this past year they released their 14th album, Songs of Experience.  It is an alright album.  But something has changed. 

It is merely alright. 

And frankly, some of the criticisms are true.  U2 have always cared about having their music out there.  They are unapologetic about it, and I find that refreshing against the status quo “too cool to care” musician. 

But they have moved into the same trap another beloved artist of mine has been in for ages.  They work on material way too long.   

Peter Gabriel will release a song after working on it for over a decade.  Then you hear a later version and the emotional core has been stripped away with more production.  Too much time on one’s hands is dangerous.



Brian Eno famously attempted to trash Where The Streets Have No Name because it was taking way too long to get right.  If he had produced SOE he might well have deleted every single song.  

Now it feels they are working this way with every song.  And Streets was the exception, not the rule.  Edge said years ago the best songs and ones he likes the most, usually come the quickest.  Sighting "One and "So Cruel" as examples.  Not a bad standard to remember.

Though we will likely never know, I cannot help but wonder if a superior album was ready long ago.  Using Trump as an excuse to work on it some more; I have to think the better album was made and changed.  And their desire to be on the radio is fine, it is their strategy that is incorrect.

The best way to get radio play is to write and release great songs.  Not to attempt to write hits.  With “You’re The Best Thing About Me,” they tried like hell to write a hit.  They succeeded…er…kind of.  But it is also (and this is not new as far as their lead singles go) one of if not the weakest song on the album.    

In a recent interview Bono said the songs he thinks will be remembered are literally my three least favorites.   “Best Thing”  Americian Soul” and “Get out Of Your Own Way.”  For me this might be the weakest 3 song stretch in their discography. 

I am not sure Bono sees the irony in releasing a song called “Get Out Of Your Own Way,” when it seems like precisely what I’d love to scream at him, while shaking him.  "Let's just redo 'Beautiful Day' with a rapper at the end of it," seems to have been the decision.  "Get Out Of" is not so much "written" as it is a rebranding of that previous hit.      

Writing an original bad song is ok.  That I could live with a bit better.  U2 rarely write bad songs.  But unoriginal and mediocre feels almost worse.  It is not derivative of The Beatles or The Clash or The Beach Boys.  It is somehow derivative of themselves.  

Many fans hate the song “Numb” for example.  But I love it.  It is a band taking a risk and doing what they want.  “Get Out Of Your Own Way” is not risky.  Which I suppose would be fine if it was also good.  I miss the risk taking of Zooropa and Pop.  Failures that sold millions and millions of copies and included some of their most risk-taking boundary pushing work. 

Bono has always been a talented writer.  The lyrics on SOE are overall solid.  If a far cry from the layered textures Bono once wrote; now preferring straight ahead pronouncements.  But there is a big difference between singing from the perspective of Judas having a conversation with Christ, than yelling, “Refu-Jesus!”

“We have to go away and…and dream it all up again.”      -Bono

And there are exciting songs on Songs of Experience.  “The Blackout” sounds like it should be a barnburner live.  The way songs and themes double back onto Songs of Innocence, just like  William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” poetry, is clever and even stirring. 

Not front loading the best songs, the last few are actually the best, with “13 (There Is A Light)” being moving and inspirational. 

So why, as a whole, does something feel off?    

“We used to say, 'they have everything but it.’  We had nothing, but it.”    -Bono

Songs of Experience has too many songs with everything but it.

Maybe it’s the Lady Gaga cameo; feeling completely unnecessary.  (Lykke Li on SOI was way cooler and more creative).  The plethora of producers.  Forgoing the Lanois/Eno production team seemed to work on SOI; here it feels like they were begging every hit maker in the industry to make U2 into hit makers. 

Throw in some auto-tuning.  Throw in this Kendrick Lamar cameo.  The sampling (not just a sound or beat here or there but the song’s entire hook) on “Summer of Love.”  Yes, U2 does not normally do these things.  But this is not Zooropa or Passengers level risk taking.  This is actually playing it safe.  And safe at times feels dull.     

If this is the end of U2 or the end as I knew it, that is alright.  I can’t complain for a great 30 plus years.  And if any band is able to bounce back, it will be them.  I am just not sure they think they (besides maybe Larry) need to or want to.  There feels like no desire to defiantly and triumphantly “dream it all up again.”


Just Play Another Chord 
If You Feel You’re Getting Bored     -Edge

Monday, January 1, 2018

U2's 50 Greatest Songs (and albums ranked)

With their 8th #1 album out, (Songs of Experience); looking back through their catalog, we ranked U2's 50 best songs.  Now as with any list, no one (except us)  (Ok not even us) will be satisfied.  That is understandable.  We even did this a few years ago and songs have shifted.  Some songs have gone from as high as #35 to now no longer being on the list at all.

Though even though it is not your list, we think it is always interesting to see what people come up with and hopefully you will as well.  Some songs that did not make it are as curious as those that did.

And how that jives with where we ranked the albums ahead of time, is often very close and occasionally surprising as well.  Sometimes albums as a whole are greater than the sum of their parts; sometimes the opposite.

First the songs:

50.   An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart

Even though "I Will Follow" is the iconic opener, with "Out of Control" right there as well.  The true heart of their debut album is this moment Paul McGuinness calls "symphonic" and one of their best live tracks.  It also speaks to growing up and a loss of innocence; showing Bono was interested in that long before the Songs of Innocence/Songs of Experience albums.  



49.  North and South of the River



48.   October

47.   The Troubles

46.   Every Breaking Wave

45.   Wake Up Dead Man

44.   If You Wear That Velvet Dress



43.   Zooropa

42.   13 (There Is A Light) / Song For Someone



41.   Exit

40.   Ultra Violet (Light My Way)

39.   Please

38.   Walk On



37.   The First Time

36.   So Cruel

35.   Dirty Day

34.   Window In The Skies   Are we the only ones who wish they had done more with Rick Rubin?



33.   11 O' Clock Tick Tock

32.   "40"   The quintessential U2 concert closer.

31.   The Crystal Ballroom   Hey guys.  I get things must "fit" and all.  But you keep leaving some of your best stuff off of the albums.




30.   The Wanderer   Johnny Cash's vocals.  Bono's searching lyrics.  Clayton's spacy bass line.   Zooropa is a hell of a good album.



29.   Acrobat   Has obtained almost mystical status for NOT ever being played live in concert.  Doing so might in some ways lose that luster.  Though it would also blow the roof off the venue if it ever happens.

28.   The Fly   Think back to when you first heard this song.  Their first single after the Rattle and Hum album.

27.   Pride (In The Name of Love)

26.   Mothers of the Disappeared

25.   Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me  Amazing groove with outstanding lyrics sort of overlooked because it was a "Batman song."  They wanted an excuse and platform to release it after it not making it onto Zooropa.  The result is the coolest thing about that movie.

24.   Mysterious Ways

23.  Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad   It was exceedingly difficult to leave off "She's A Mystery To Me," the excellent song given to Roy Orbison.  But there is no way to leave out this one.  Bono wrote one hell of a great lounge song.  Perfect for Sinatra but Frank was either too old to do it or one line was a bit too close to the bone (greedy with my children/my lovers/my wife).   In actuality Bono had the better voice at the time.  Even though it would have been amazing to hear the Chairman tackle it, it is one of Bono's greatest vocals.



22.   Love is Blindness

21.   Even Better Than The Real Thing

20.   Lemon



19.   One Tree Hill

18.   I'm Not Your Baby   Adam Clayton once stated this was the his favorite U2 song.



17.   When Love Comes To Town

16.   Vertigo

15.   Mofo  "It was as if my whole life was in that song," -Bono

One of the greatest dance songs ever recorded.  Surely about as deep as they come, with some of the best lyrics Bono ever wrote.

14.   Magnificent

While there are no iconic bass lines on No Line On The Horizon like there are on War or The Joshua Tree; No Line On The Horizon contains on the whole, Adam Clayton's finest work.

One of the best "praise" songs I have ever heard.  Contemporary Christian Worship Leaders have been knocking off U2 for ages; they might as well straight out play this song Sunday morning.



13.   I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

12.   Running To Stand Still

11.   All I Want Is You

10.   With or Without You

9.   Stay (Faraway, So Close!)



8.   New Year's Day

7.   Moment of Surrender



6.   One

5.   Bullet The Blue Sky

4.  Until The End of The World




3.   Sunday Bloody Sunday

2.   Bad




1.   Where The Streets Have No Name





Albums:

14.   Songs of Experience

13.   October

12.   How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

11.   Boy

10.   All That You Can't Leave Behind

9.   No Line on The Horizon

8.  The Unforgettable Fire

7.   Songs of Innocence

6.   Rattle and Hum

5.   Pop

4.   Zooropa

3.  War

2.  The Joshua Tree

1.   Achtung Baby  




Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide

Spoilers...


When we finally meet Deckard in Blade Runner 2049, it is inside a Las Vegas Casino he is living/hiding in.  It is reminiscent of the large banquet room in The Shining or Brando in the 3rd act of Apocalypse Now.  A character talked about and occasionally heard until nearly 2 hours later he finally appears.  But Deckard does not have a village of followers, he has memories.  A place that is a large memory of what once was.  Holograms of Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe entertain him.  And amongst the memories is a not mentioned painting; Boy Leading a Horse, by Picasso.

Much as a unicorn was years ago, a horse is an important part of the story in this sequel.  One of the best sequels ever made and a film that elevates the original.  

Every civilization was built off the back of a disposable work horse.



When I saw Ex Machina, my favorite film of 2015, I wrote, "this is the movie everyone tells me Blade Runner is."  Blade Runner has for me always been understandably influential with its visuals and effects.

But the film always left me hallow.  Despite Rutger Hauer's "tears in rain" speech, I wanted to care as much throughout the film as I did at the end.

I rewatched it the day before seeing 2049 and to my slight delight, I did care more than I previously had.  Not by leaps and bounds, the film to me is still in many ways better on paper than in actuality.  But the "Final Cut" version, or heck probably any version NOT the theatrical release version I had previously seen, is far superior than what the studio made Ridley Scott turn his film into originally.

While a sequel to any film that is now regarded as a classic, as well as starred Harrison Ford, will have enough reason to exist for those reasons alone, Blade Runner 2049 feels like a natural progression of the story.  And while money is why most any movie is made, Producer Scott and others decided to make a great film above all else and let the chips fall where they may.  What results is a movie that is hard to believe exists.

This is not a retelling of the original like Star Wars: Force Awakens was.  Just like the original Blade Runner, there is not nonstop action.  The movie is philosophical and paced, and if you count the previews, about 3 hours long.  And while Ryan Gosling is a famous actor, his penchant for doing mostly independent movies means he is not an established Box Office draw. Indeed much has been made of 2049's disappointing opening weekend, which also happens to be the biggest of Gosling's career.  They could have banked on a bigger star as the lead.  Thrown in Jennifer Lawrence and made the film non stop explosions for 2 hours.  Instead we have a perfectly cast Gosling in a rich film you might find yourself thinking about for days afterward.  That might not make it a hit, but like its predecessor, hopefully it will make it a classic.

When Sci-Fi is at its best, it makes the viewer think.  It can pose philosophical questions.  In college I took a philosophy course where we watched Star Trek episodes every day.  Far from a cake class, the material was fun but tough.  That is exactly what the best of the genre can provide.

Gosling's "K" is a replicant.  Something we find out from the very beginning.  Being a blade runner as well, he is asked how it feels to "retire" (kill) his own kind by farmer and fellow replicant Sapper Morton.  The "new versions don't run," K explains.  Morton tells him he can only do what he does because he has "never seen a miracle."  A curious line that proves to be far from a throw away one.

K by almost any standard is real.  Which of course raises the question again, "what is real?" This is not new territory in science fiction, but the triumph of the film is not in exactly what it is about but maybe more how it is about it.  Not an android but a "synthetic human with paraphysical capabilities."  They bleed.  They eat the same food real humans eat.  Have sex.  As the Roy character from the original film said, "We're not computers...We're physical."  

K desires companionship, and has purchased a mass produced one in "Joi," a hologram helper/girlfriend who is as "real" to K as can be, only he can not touch her. At the end of the day she is just a program.

Right?

The fact that her name is Joi is of course not coincidental.  But neither is the fact that one of the film's villains is named "Luv."  

When ordered to retire a replicant that may have actually been born, K responds with uncharacteristic hesitation.  Hesitation in following orders is literally meant to be programmed out of him.  And yet there it is.  When asked why he pauses he replies, "I never retired something that was born.  Maybe to be born is to have a soul."

And such leads us down our journey of the Boy Leading a Horse.  Or rather a boy remembering a horse and what exactly that means to him.

K desires to be significant.  As Joi calls it, "special," while at the same time fearing what it all means and realizing the consequences.  Shown in one of those great Gosling moments of raw emotion that are only so powerful because of how understated he has been previously.

Which brings me back to Gosling.  Director Denis Villeneuve said he never thought of anyone else for the role.  No known actor today could better what he does here.  An expert of quiet understatement that conveys emotions through his eyes or a look.  The film is his, and it is a performance superior to his recent Oscar nominated one in La La Land.  But there is no singing or dancing here and because of that, there will be no Oscar nomination or Golden Globe award this time.  But in a just world there would be.

Much as there should be for director Villeneuve and (for certain will be) for cinematographer Roger Deakins.  What Villeneuve has achieved is rather remarkable and exceeds his excellent Arrival.  

But despite all the technical achievements, it would feel hollow without those performances.  Especially Gosling's K and Sylvia Hoeks's Luv (whose performance is also worthy of nomination in a deep and defined character) and Ana de Armas as Joi.  And without such a solid narrative written by original Blade Runner script writer Hampton Fancher with Michael Green.

If you are going into the film hoping the notorious "Is Deckard a replicant or not?" question will finally be answered for you, well think again.

Blade Runner 2049 is too smart for that.  The answer is inconsequential.  It is the questions raised that are of most importance.  
























Nabokov's book "Pale Fire" is referenced more than once.  "Treasure Island" is mentioned.  We hear the opening notes from "Peter and The Wolf."  In the short film: 2048: Nowhere to Run directed by Ridley Scott's son Luke as a sort of introduction to the Sapper Morton character, we see he gifts a book to a young girl; "The Power and the Glory."  

It was impossible not to think of other strong films.  The Spielberg/Kubrick film A.I.  Spike Jonze's Her.  I even thought of Gosling's, Lars and the Real Girl (and chuckledwhen a woman tells K, "I figured you for liking real girls."

And while the influences are there it is not a film that feels void of its own identity or ideas.  Much of what I love of the screenplay is that it takes us up to a place we have been before and then says "nope, not going down that road."  It is that kind of movie. Admitedly familiar, but too good to be that easy.

And one of the very best things about 2049 is there is a genuinely great love story here.

A love story between K and Joi that is far better told than the one between Deckard and Rachael in the original movie.  (Though 2049 actually much improves the Deckard/Rachael dynamic)

And what then elevates the K/Joi relationship from good to wonderful is the fact that we, through K, question how "real" it actually is.  Joi was programmed to literally tell K what he wanted to hear.  So did she always do this or at least once, break away from her programming and tell him her "true" feelings?  K wonders this himself and the implications of it are heartbreaking.


Why do we love?  Is it all physical?  Is it because our partner tells us "what we want to hear?"

Would I love my dog as much if she were not as cute as she is?  If she were less dependent on me?

Does love sometimes extinguish our joy?

In the original 1982 movie, the Voigt-Kampff Test is used to distinguish if someone is a replicant or not.  One of the ways they determine this is through a series of questions that detect empathy.  The replicants do not have the emotional capacity a human would have, at least the replicants from the first film, who will not age long enough to develop that trait.

But some models of replicants live longer than others.  When K in fact, fails the 2049 version of the VK test (repeating words after hearing lines from "Pale Fire" recited over and over) it appears he is no longer at an accepted baseline because he is now experiencing too much emotion.  Programmed to do whatever he is told to do, this would prove a flaw.

As stated, the questions are usually more important than any answers.  Because the answers are up to the individual viewer.

So is Deckard a replicant?  It is one of the biggest questions in movie history.  Not even the actors and writers and filmmakers of the original movie could agree on that answer.  I have my own answer and reasons for it.  You probably have yours.

But there is one possible answer that 2049 seems to offer.  "What does it mean to be human?"  Is it mere physicality or is it choices?  Is it being born, as K states, thus having a soul?

"Dying for the right cause.  It's the most human thing we can do," K is told toward the end of the film.

This springs him into taking an action; into making a choice.



K may or may not end up being special in the sense he possibly thought.

But Blade Runner 2049 surmises that the ordinary can still be extraordinary.



Boy Leading a Horse is yet another masterpiece critics praise without trying to explain. Either they believe it has no meaning or that explaining it is impossible.  That is no reason not to try.  The more difficult an image is to interpret, the more you experience aesthetic satisfaction when you do start to understand it.

                  -from PabloPicasso.org

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sometimes I'm Happy

“With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.” 

                         -Robert Louis Stevenson,   The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde

We here in America like to make fun of the French.  Considering part of what we don’t like about French people is their uppity mentality, we can be rather uppity on the subject.  Now when it comes to a certain War and some felt ungratefulness, I get that.  But we also like to ignore the fact we would not be a country at all if not for France.  Dang that little factoid.    

I told you that to tell you this.  The French love Jerry Lewis.  It’s almost  a tired joke to say, but it is and has been true.  So if the French like someone so much, someone so low brow, certainly we can be smug about the whole thing right?  I mean, that scrawny, mugging comic with the high voice?  Really?  

But also, is his own home country missing something?

Jerry Lewis has interested me for a long time.  Which is weird in a sense because I am not exactly a fan.  Or haven't been.  There are things here and there I enjoy.  His performance in The King of Comedy was flat out outstanding.  Critic Peter Sobczynski said he not only should have been nominated for the Oscar but won it.  It feels to me to be unquestionably a superior performance to the one given by the winner of that year, Jack Nicholson (Terms of Endearment).

His performance is full of nuance, which is not quite the word people think of when they think of Jerry Lewis.  His confident gate as Jerry Langford, walking down the street, both effeminate and completely masculine.  (I can only picture John Entwistle holding a cigarette as comparison)  As Comedy director Martin Scorsese described, "his brilliant solemnity." The feelings of surprise that he could act is ridiculous in hindsight.  His performance in The Nutty Professor should also have been at least nominated, if not won.  And Andrew Dice Clay (for better or worse) owes his career to Buddy Love.

Scene written by Lewis based on a real encounter he had with a fan

During the filming of The King of Comedy, Scorsese and Deniro would ask Lewis what it was like to be as famous as he was.  This was at the peak of Deniro's acting career, and yet not even he at that time could understand the celebrity Lewis endured.  Comparing any act to The Beatles feels a bit lazy and exaggerated, and yet look up Martin and Lewis and you can see hordes of screaming young fans outside their hotel window.  Lewis knew that level of fame; and both relished and detested everything that went with it.  
   

Underneath the child like antics was a brilliant mind.  He not only excelled at many different formats of entertainment, but he was an underappreciated technically skilled director.  When you study film and come across who invented the video assist, which lets directors and camera people and actors see what is being shot in the very moment, it was one Jerry Lewis that invented that.  His lectures at USC were turned into a book “The Total Filmmaker” which is considered essential reading for a would-be filmmaker.  One of his students was an aspiring filmmaker with only a single short film to his name; Steven Spielberg.



Despite all his success, one comment I heard the day of his passing was one that from an outsiders point of view like myself, felt to have some truth.  

“He never seemed really happy.”

I hope that is not accurate, but it feels like it is.

We're headed cross the river, wash your sins away in the tide.  It's all so peaceful on that other side.  Forget your troubles and just get happy.  You better chase all your cares away.  Shout Hallelujah come on get happy.  Get ready for the judgment day.



Lewis was as famous for being a grumpy old man in his last 15 years or so as he was anything else.  At times I would tell a friend, “Can you believe what Jerry Lewis just said?” While at other times I would think, “Why are people caring so much with what he said?”

The height of grumpy Jerry occurred in his very last interview, The Hollywood Reporter seven minute masterpiece where Lewis answers most questions with “why?"  The initial reaction that came out was “oh here Lewis goes again.”  But once you watch it you realize something quickly.  Lewis is 100% in the right, and giving the young reporter who is asking asinine questions a more memorable interview than he deserves.

You are nearly 91, still performing across the country and a crew comes tearing up your home with cameras and cables and lights, the extent of which you find unnecessary.  You were a movie director, so you would know.  And to top it off you are asked why you choose work over dying?

The very question is condescending ageism.  To me, his answers were exactly as they should be.  The King of “not suffering fools.”  Lewis was my new hero. 

"Only this morning, looking in the mirror while shaving, I enjoyed seeing what I saw so much I couldn't tear myself away."
         -Jerry Lewis as Buddy Love  (The Nutty Professor)

        

Before I knew Lewis as anything else, I knew him for his huge role in the MDA Labor Day Telethon.  My mother would explain to me that he was previously a “silly comedian,” which shocked me at the time because the man I saw talking seriously about helping “his kids” was unrecognizable from the skinny young man with the high-pitched voice that became famous with Dean Martin.

Second hand accounts from people who worked those telethons relay stories of a tough leader yelling often backstage to keep the show flowing just right. 

Lewis was notoriously cantankerous and at times difficult to work with.  He vaguely blamed himself for the breakup between he and Dean Martin; late in life when he would give any hint of a reason at all.

His personal life at times mirrored his professional one; full of peaks and valleys.  His first wife blamed numerous affairs for why she left him after 36 years of marriage.  He also suffered an addiction to painkillers during the 70's, a side effect of years of pratfalls.  

His most notorious career low was his abandoned 1972 film, The Day The Clown Cried.  The film was deemed unworthy of release.  But more accurately, too offensive to be released, being it told the story of a clown that tried to lighten the mood for children in a concentration camp.  Then at the end of the movie (the script is available online) he leads them inside a gas chamber himself, because he does not want them to be scared in that final moment.  Unable to deal with the horrors around him he dies alongside the children. 

The movie has only been seen by a small handful of people.  Maybe most famously, actor/comedian Harry Shearer was somehow one of those handful and stated “This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.  ‘Oh My God!’- that’s all you can say.”

While much of why people detest the movie is the very idea of a comedian being involved in a film about the Holocaust, you cannot say it was a safe choice.  Of course Frenchman Roberto Benigni would years later win Oscars for the very similarly themed, Life Is Beautiful. 

While that movie has its detractors as well, I personally felt Benigni found the right delicate balance.  After defending the work for years, later in life Lewis seemed to agree he was not able to toe that line as effectively as Benigni.

“It was all bad and it was bad because I lost the magic.  You will never see it, no-one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.” 

But he seemed to have mixed feelings about his movie.  Feelings of a lost opportunity and a near miss.  “It was bad, bad, bad. It could have been wonderful,” he told a questioner at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.   

No matter how bad the film is; and for the sake of everything I will assume it is awful, I still have tremendous respect for Lewis for the attempt.  Yes, you could argue it was a blatant pursuit for an Oscar.  But that does not make the subject matter any less of a risk.  Lewis was not against taking risks.  This was just his most famous one.  And one he still seems to want people to view despite his previous statement, though he set it up to be after he was gone.  In 2015 Lewis donated his copy to the Library of Congress on the stipulation it not be shown for at least ten years. It is as if he hopes from the afterlife to have at least some people prove him right.  

"It's either better than Citizen Kane or the worst piece of shit that anyone ever loaded on the projector."  -Jerry Lewis

Despite the film being famously mocked for decades now, it has at least one rather staunch supporter amongst the small handful that have seen it.  

French film critic Jean-Michel Frodon:   “I’m convinced it’s a very good job. It’s a very interesting and important film, very daring about both the issue, which of course is the Holocaust, but even beyond that as a story of a man who has dedicated his life to making people laugh and is questioning what it is to make people laugh. I think it is a very bitter film, and a disturbing film, and this is why it was so brutally dismissed by those people who saw it, or elements of it, including the writers of the script.”


For some context, there was not a mainstream Holocaust film made at this time.  Not one that showed the gas chambers.  The fact this would be the first is like imagining if Adam Sandler were the first to make such a movie. 

The very MDA Telethon I knew him for before anything else, could also be seen as an interesting choice.  You would think this is where there could be no criticism of the man.  But Lewis, raised in an era long before “politically correct” was a term, was one of those people who you sense would never have had the patience to follow or care about the sensitive right word or not, no matter the era.  He was helping people, but for some that was not enough.  Some of his “kids” would later call themselves “Jerry’s Orphans” for the way they believed Lewis used pity for them to raise money.  Lewis would on occasion refer to children with MD as “cripples.”  

In a first-person account he wrote for Parade Magazine in which he imagines life as a child with MD, he refers to himself in character as “half a person.”  It is not out of the realm of possibility to believe these thoughts would go through the mind of someone suffering from this disease.  But a group of people with MD found them highly offensive, and began protesting the very telethon that had made Muscular Dystrophy a household word.  

"It's not grammatically correct, but I think you have the idea."   

This raises many discussion questions and conversations about people who suffer from disabilities, and I well applaud anyone who does not see themselves as a victim.  But it also seems like if a man raises more money than any single individual for any single cause, maybe you cut him a little slack. 

Lewis would put it succinctly.  “They’ve got a problem.  I hope they get better.”  

“Why wasn’t I a terrible person when we bought them the wheelchairs that are getting them around?”

Mike Wallace:  “You’ve called them half a person, do you really feel that way?”

Jerry Lewis:  “They can’t run with me down the hall can they?  In truth, aren’t they given half?  Haven’t they been left with half?  If there is a degree of measurement, are they whole?”

No one seems to know why Jerry Lewis picked MD as a cause.  Possibly, for such a physical comedian, the idea of not being about to use one’s body as they wished was unimaginable to him.  When asked even by good friend Larry King as to why, King said he never once answered him.  But to assume it was all for simple personal glory, seems a jaded viewpoint I cannot imagine wanting to be on board with.      

Yes the man could be a jackass, but to stay up for entire weekends raising money and making appearances so it might win you some award some day?  That is a level of cynicism I hope to never have for anyone.  Write a check and get a building named after you.  Undeniably, Jerry Lewis did far more than that. 

Lewis’ straight talk was often (and accurately) looked at as an old crank in his later years.  But even some of this you can excuse as a man of his time.  I see my grandfather in his “women aren’t funny” comments. 

Sure, maybe he meant them in that very moment.  Maybe he meant “many are not to me because____.”  And any nuance in this “all genders are exactly the same and how dare you suggest otherwise” moment in time, is certainly not allowed.  It should also be pointed out that Carol Burnett and Lily Tomlin praised him for his good will towards them during their careers.  To broad brush him with labels and "I'm glad he's gone" sentiments, as I have seen done by self righteous (and far less talented) comedians I know, is both lazy and hack.

Maybe Jerry Lewis was a simple man.  A jerk who got famous and remained a jerk.  Or maybe, the over the top performer was someone misunderstood that we never got to know completely in 90 plus years. 

One thing possibly more easy to analyze was his love for his comedy partner, Dean Martin.  “I fell in love with him the day we met.”  

Jerry Lewis oozed ego.  But when it came to the straight man of the comedy team, Lewis acquiesced.  “His comedic skills were unparalleled.”


“We were both six feet tall.  I took his shoes one day and put lifts on them, so he would be a little taller than me. “

The reason being, Lewis looked up to the 9 years older Martin, and so he should literally on stage and screen. An only child, Lewis felt a kinship as if in Martin he now had a sibling.  “I loved him so much.  And I knew how much he loved me.” 

In Martin, Lewis found a soul mate.  The only child had found his brother.  At 90, and during that famous final interview, Lewis gives the closest thing to an answer when asked, "what was the most enjoyable part of your career?"  His answer: "when my partner was alive." A partner that he had not worked with since 1956.  




During the famous surprise reunion that Frank Sinatra set up during the 1976 Telethon, the men that had not spoken in twenty years at that point fall effortlessly into a chemistry.  A chemistry that Sinatra himself, despite being the one at that point that had worked with Martin for years, could not match when they sang a song together afterwards.  Martin and Lewis feel natural.  Martin and Sinatra, off moment or not, feel awkward and forced by comparison. 

"He was a miracle that God put in my life and working with him was a feeling I will never forget."   -Jerry Lewis on Dean Martin

Tragedy would bring Lewis and Martin together again.  When Dean Martin's son died from an airplane crash, Lewis went to the funeral unannounced.  There the old friends spoke for two hours.  Martin let Lewis know how much he loved him.  

"That was the first time he had said that or ever related to loving me.  He showed it enough, it was just difficult for him to say."

Losing a son would be something the old friends would one day have in common.

Joe, one of Jerry's six son's, committed suicide at age 45.  His oldest son Gary would blame his father for his brother's tragic end. 

"Jerry Lewis is a mean and evil person.  He was never loving and caring towards me or my brothers."  

Kliph Nesteroff is the author of "The Comedians," which gives a history of American comedy.

In it, he says Lewis's influence "cannot be overstated."  He cites him as one of the best examples we have of the comedic mind.

"The comic neuroses, the good and bad side, the happy, funny, smiling side and the brooding, angry, depressed side - Jerry Lewis had both of those.  Whether he was aware of it or not, we frequently saw both sides of him on display."

Jerry Lewis helped raise 2.6 Billion Dollars to fight Muscular Dystrophy.  



"Sometimes he's happy, sometimes he's blue.  You can't he blue and happy too.