Monday, July 29, 2013

Jerry And Me (2012)

WHO: Jerry Lewis and Mehrnaz Saeedvafa are the "Jerry" and "Me" of the title: the former a comedy legend, the latter the Iranian-American film scholar (and co-writer, with Jonathan Rosenbaum, of a terrific book on Abbas Kiarostami) who directed this among other her other films and videos.

WHAT: I haven't yet seen this documentary reflecting on Saeedvafa's personal history through the prism of her lifelong relationship with the films of Lewis, from her days watching him dubbed in Farsi during her youth in pre-Revolutionary Tehran to her more recent experiences teaching college courses on him in Chicago. With endorsements from as diverse an array of critics as Scott Jordan Harris, Ehsan Khoshbakht, and Adrian Martin, I'm dying to. A brief excerpt from the review of Jerry and Me by the last of these in the must-read film journal LOLA follows:
Film history, as it has generally been written, only occasionally gives us a glimpse of this kind of shuttle-action across cultures, nations and audiences: a Latin American star such as Carmen Miranda as seen ‘back home’ via the detour of her Hollywood productions; or the cult of certain US actors in Japan. But an entire treasure-trove of spectator experience opens up once we loosen the bounds of territorial belonging, as Saeedvafa does here. It is a different Lewis than the one we are used to encountering... 
WHERE/WHEN: Screens at the Castro Theatre today at 1:15 PM, at the Cinéarts Palo Alto August 7th at 3:50 PM, and the Grand Lake in Oakland August 10th at 1:45 PM, all as presentations of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

WHY: The SFJFF is bigger than ever this year and there's much to intrigue among its 74 films programmed. But if I could only attend one day of the festival, today would be it. If I wanted to make a marathon out of it, I could arrive in the morning for a pair of Israeli road movies and stay all day until the 9PM Frameline co-presentation Out In The Dark. In between there will be two very exciting director-in-person appearances: brilliant New York documentarian Alan Berliner with his new First Cousin, Once Removed and legendary Swedish auteur Jan Troell with his latest The Last Sentence.

This afternoon's screening of Jerry And Me seems particularly important in the light of the fact that the Castro Theatre has released an August calendar filled with many tantalizing viewing options, it's once again a month without a Jerry Lewis film. Unless my memory's failing me, In the many years I've been paying close attention to its programming, not once has a film by or starring Lewis played the Castro. Not even The King of Comedy made it into the venue's 2009 Scorsese series (although a new restoration is said to be making the rounds internationally, so perhaps soon...) This may sound a bit like a cross between noticing the Castro doesn't play enough Adam Sandler or John Wayne films- the nexus of unappealing to San Francisco audiences for aesthetic and political reasons. The venue's size means it needs to appeal to large audiences in its screening offerings, and perhaps steer clear of Lewis's general unfashionability and his retrograde, borderline (and sometimes over-the-border) offensive personal comments about women, gays, and various minority groups over the years. 

But enjoying the films does not equal endorsing the man's outlook. Many cinephiles know that the best of the films Lewis made in the 1950s and 1960s simply cry out to be seen in cinemas, a fact I confirmed for myself earlier this year when I finally experienced his work in 35mm for the first time, on a trip to the Stanford to see the masterful Tashlin-directed Artists And Models. One day I'd like to see Lewis's work as a director (perhaps the Godard-influencing The Ladies Man?) on a big screen; I can't recall an instance of any Frisco Bay theatre screening any of them since Eddie Murphy's 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor inspired Marc Huestis to bring the 1963 original to the Castro with Stella Stevens in attendance (an event that predated my own intense cinephilia). In the meantime, the only chances to see Lewis on the Castro screen have been occasional bookings of It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, in which he has a brief cameo. Until today's screening of Jerry And Me, when videoclips from his films and media appearances, (including, yes, even some of his dispiriting public statements) will be viewable presented through the filter of a modern, Iranian-American feminist, washing over that giant screen. And who knows if it might whet an appetite to see the genuine article in 35mm?

HOW: Digital video projection on a program also including Dan Shadur's documentary on Jews in Iran, Before the Revolution.

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