Monday, October 12, 2009

Big in Europe

European appreciation of American culture always can seem condescending, but I think they are just more wholehearted about "low art" then we are. My Belgian friend could take or leave the U.S., but he is hopelessly devoted to donuts with sprinkles on them, which are unavailable on his side of the pond.

The French are well-known and often mocked for their love of Jerry Lewis. American audiences have a hard time remembering any of his achievements prior to those muscular dystrophy telethons. Lewis was a son of vaudevillians, and a writer, performer, producer and director who shattered film industry barriers and invented video assist, allowing directors to review what they had just shot.

Stateside, his embarrassing brand of comedy has not aged well, but in the sixties the French managed to re-ironize the screen legend. Americans can be smartasses, but in France the phrase "une certaine perversité" is considered complimentary. The auteur theory, more prevalent in Europe, holds that a great film can emanate from a single brilliant mind. And Lewis, in spite of his terrible taste, joins the ranks of Chaplin, Keaton, and Woody Allen in leaving a powerful, personal, idiosyncratic imprint on his work. Incidentally, Allen is also more loved in Europe. In this movie, he insists that his films "gain something in the translation."

Susan Bernofsky says that the equivalent to Jerry Lewis in Germany is Donald Duck. Apparently this is not due to some intrinsic Germanness to the slobbering, pantsless cartoon character. Nor is it a failure of Americans to appreciate Donald's brilliance. His cult following in Germany arose thanks to the erudite translations of Erika Fuchs, described as "a free spirit in owlish glasses." My compliments to the voiceover artist in this clip--he nails the original Donald.

Long live cultural exchange, and may we forever delight in each other's detritus!