Hopefully we can finally see Jerry Lewis’s 50-year-old Holocaust tragicomedy

Hopefully we can finally see Jerry Lewis’s 50-year-old Holocaust tragicomedy
Hopefully we can finally see Jerry Lewis’s 50-year-old Holocaust tragicomedy

Dday one hundred and thirteen of Holocaust drama The Day the Clown Cried (1972). Perhaps comedian Jerry Lewis, star and director, still hoped that the role would put him on the map as a serious actor. Maybe he didn’t think anything at all, due to lack of sleep, money stress and an addiction to painkillers.

The film is about a clown imprisoned by the Nazis in Auschwitz. Lewis had dreaded shooting the final scene, he said The New York Times shortly after recording. “I just kept the cameras rolling. And I started walking with children hanging from my arms and legs. Singing. To the gas chambers. And then the door closed behind us.’

A tragicomedy about the Holocaust with this ending, an ego project riddled with setbacks by a comedian who had no experience with drama: this must be the height of bad taste, right? Few people could judge that until now. The film was never released. Not even finished, due to lack of money and rights issues.

There are only a handful of eyewitness accounts, recorded by Spy Magazine in 1992, from people who once saw a rough cut. Such as comedian and Simpsons voice-over Harry Shearer. Humor, drama: absolutely everything is astonishingly poorly timed, he said. ‘Even what you imagine in your wildest fantasies doesn’t measure up to what it is. ‘Oh my God!’, that’s all you can say about it.’

The Day the Clown Cried is seen as the holy grail of never-seen films. But he’s not completely lost. Lewis took his material to the Library of Congress in 2014, where he had to lock it up for ten years. It was recently announced that scientists can request the material from June. A public showing is not planned.

While that would be so interesting for scientists. How we, the audience, watch films about the Holocaust is changing. Would it be different from the enormously beloved one? La vita è bella (1998)? Why? Do we actually still look at it the same way? How far can you go to make it easy for the viewer? Isn’t wanting to depict the horror of the Holocaust a form of hubris anyway?

Answers to those questions are personal, depend on age, political situation and involvement with the subject. So I want The Day the Clown Cried like to see. Not to sneer at failed camp, but because it is inevitably a confrontation with my own boundaries and taste.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: finally Jerry Lewiss #50yearold Holocaust tragicomedy


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