By Alex Ross Perry in the May-June 2020 Issue
Jerry Lewis’s penultimate film as a writer-director was handed to me on an original-issue VHS by my friend, cinematographer, and Jerry-worship trailblazer Sean Price Williams. There was no other way to see it. There has never been a DVD. He said only, “It’s not at all funny. It’s really a depressing movie.” The classic, goofy “Jerry as cartoon” artwork begged to differ. Then I watched Hardly Working. (And again later on 35mm.) Produced eight years after The Day the Clown Cried, Hardly Working (1981) shows what I believe the tone of that mythical lost artifact might be: treacly, sentimental, and awkwardly grasping for a perpetually out-of-reach balance of pathos and humanism. This seems like the kind of movie that was financed by mobsters, and somehow that quality comes across in the filmmaking. While we’re at it, a reissue of Lewis’s book The Total Film-Maker would be most welcome. The Jerry Centennial is six years away.
Alex Ross Perry is the director of, most recently, Her Smell.