Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown at Jewish International Film Festival


Jerry Lewis.
Jerry Lewis.

AMERICANS saw a buffoon, but the French saw an artist.

For decades Jerry Lewis had people doubled over in fits of laughter, as he tripped, stumbled, pulled faces and put on voices.

People from his own country dismissed his routine as hollow theatrics, but those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean saw something much deeper.

They paid particular attention when Lewis went behind the camera, creating his own films.

Now Lewis’ career as a performer and humanitarian is explored in the documentary Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown, co-produced by Australian Stephan Wellink.

Wellink, who grew up watching the comedy legend, said the contrasting views on the performer were fascinating.

“We wanted to look behind the man and why the French love him so much and why he is not held in the same esteem in his own country,” he said.

“They (Americans) saw him as a clown; it is a telling point in the documentary when it is said Americans were uncomfortable because he held a mirror up to them, they thought they were more sophisticated than that.

“(But) he was an auteur; he had control on all aspects of his films like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.”

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The international crew behind the documentary brought together interviewees ranging from Australian comedian Shaun Micallef to Hollywood director Martin Scorsese to bring his story to new generations.

“Our French crew interviewed Jerry Lewis with an Australian cameraman but then Scorsese was interviewed remotely, but I think he basically directed himself,” Wellink said.

“Co-ordinating these things are never easy, they are all busy people but you mention Lewis and they all made time.

“Lewis is right up there amongst the most influential comedians, it is a shame that America sees him as a buffoon, he is an artist.

“Lewis entertained people for 70 years; it is amazing that when you fade from the public eye that people forget.”

Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown screens as part of the Jewish International Film Festival at Greater Union Morley from October 26 – November 6.