This appeared originally in the May-June 1990 issue of Tikkun, and was reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism, five years later. It seems worth reposting now, especially when A.O. Scott’s would-be “critical” revaluation of Woody Allen can’t even hint at the films’ racist and classist subtexts. — J.R.
“Why are the French so crazy about Jerry Lewis?” is a recurring question posed by film buffs in the United States, but, sad to say, it is almost invariably asked rhetorically. When Dick Cavett tried it out several years ago on Jean-Luc Godard, one of Lewis’s biggest defenders, it quickly became apparent that Cavett had no interest in hearing an answer, and he immediately changed the subject as soon as Godard began to provide one. Nevertheless it’s a question worth posing seriously, along with a few related ones — even at the risk of courting disbelief and giving offense.
Why are American intellectuals so contemptuous of Jerry Lewis and so crazy about Woody Allen? Apart from such obvious differences as the fact that Allen cites Kierkegaard and Lewis doesn’t, what is it that gives Allen such an exalted cultural status in this country, and Lewis virtually no cultural status at all?… Read more »