Book Review: The Total Film-MakerBy Rob Gonsalves
Posted 11/11/08 16:02:36
It's fitting, perhaps, that I first heard about Jerry Lewis' "The Total Film-Maker" in Bill Griffith's absurdist comic strip "Zippy the Pinhead."
Griffith was fixated on one line from the book's prologue: "You have to know all the technical crap as well as how to smell out the intangibles, then go make the birth of a simian under a Jewish gypsy lying in a truck in Fresno during a snowstorm prior to the wheat fields burning while a priest begs a rabbi to hug his foot."
Jerry is rarely given credit for being a technical pioneer. On the cover of The Total Film-Maker is the massive $900,000 indoor set he had built for The Ladies' Man, the biggest studio set ever filmed up to that point. On the same movie, Jerry started using a video camera next to the film camera, a process that changed filmmaking and became an industry standard. Even if you have little use for his actual movies, the man has contributed.
Yet he has never been honored at the Oscars, and he has not directed a feature film in 25 years (1983's Smorgasbord); he has not shot a frame of film at all in 15 years (he helmed a segment of 1993's anthology Comment Vont les Enfants). The disappointment of The Day the Clown Cried killed him a little, I think. But in this book, published only a year before that disaster, Jerry is still madly in love with film and film-making, and the love is infectious. Some enterprising publisher of film-related books (say, Applause) needs to bring The Total Film-Maker back into print, with perhaps a new introduction by Jerry (or maybe by Martin Scorsese, who directed Jerry so memorably in The King of Comedy), so it can be in bookstores alongside Robert Rodriguez's Rebel Without a Crew inspiring a whole new generation to get out there and — as Jerry exhorts — "make film, shoot film, run film."
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