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Richard Lewis: Bundle of Nerves

Video Watchdog // R // September 2, 2014
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted October 28, 2014 | E-mail the Author
The Movies:

With the list of stand-up comedians through the years that are still around, one almost forgets that there are some who continue to trudge along and perform, or do movies or what have you. We have been losing some of them like David Brenner, but guys like Richard Lewis still soldier on, and this two-disc set of lost and/or forgotten works of Lewis, dubbed Bundle of Nerves, is a testament to this.

With an introduction from the man himself, we see some of the stuff he helped cut his teeth on through the years, things that may be seen for the first time in years, either on DVD or at all. Things start with "Diary of a Young Comic," a 1979 film that aired during an off-week of Saturday Night Live. Lewis plays Billy, a guy who goes from New York to Los Angeles in order to fulfill his dream of being a comic but realizes that things are tougher than even he anticipated. While the story has been told in other places before, Lewis does not do much to distinguish this from others, aside from doing something that is fairly personal to the man. We then move onto "The Magical Misery Tour", Lewis' 1997 stand-up special filmed at New York's The Bottom Line. Casual observers of Lewis' work will note that this is the only stand-up special among the four and a half hours of material on both discs, which is a tiny shame, as he always has been a darkly funny, almost stream of consciousness comic who talked about love, sex, relationships and the like. His work is underrated yet has moments of brilliance worth exploring for any comedy fan.

Next up is "Drunks," a 1995 film starring Lewis as a recovering alcoholic in a similar semi-autobiographic turn. Lewis plays Jim, who speaks at his first AA meeting and goes on a slow, self-destructive path after. "Drunks" like "Diary" seems less about Lewis' character carrying the action and more about those he interacts with or those characters may have their own moment speaking to the Group, such as Joseph's emotional admissions (Howard Rollins, in a role not long before his untimely death) or those Louis, played by the late Spalding Gray. While these moments have their own respective power, how Lewis ties into them other than the fact that he shares scenes with them on occasion is confusing. Wrapping things up is "House of a Lifetime," which in essence is Lewis showing off his stuff in his place that he has collected through the decades, including a painting from Rolling Stone Ron Wood which serves as the cover art for the DVD. While this feature was nice, honestly there is little reason for it to run a broadcast hour. More signal, less noise.

The Bundle of Nerves is less an exhaustive look at the work of Richard Lewis over the last four decades or so, and more just a box set of B-sides or forgotten tracks, to borrow a music analogy. That it is here to be more focused to a diehard fan rather than bringing some in is a weird decision, but if you have gotten this far, you probably already like his comedic work on and off a standup set, don't you?

The Discs:
Video:

Both "Diary" and "Misery" are presented in full-frame video, while "Drunks" and "House" appear in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The first two features are reproduced accurately as can be, with some issues of color fading and crushing, and inconsistent black levels in "Misery." "Diary" is an old feature shot on 16mm and little has been done to it, illustrated by opening title cards which cover (to paraphrase) issues inherent in the source. The latter two programs look good, with "Drunks" looking gritty and almost vibrant. "House" is the newest of the bunch and looks its relative young age, all pristine and whatnot. Generally, the package looks fine.

Audio:

Stereo for all of the installments, none of which are exceptional in one way or another. Dialogue is well-balanced and the dialogue-driven work has little in the way of dynamic action or immersion (save for "Misery"), which is hardly a surprise. The work is devoid of low-end fidelity as well, but considering the source material, things are straightforward and with no qualm.

Extras:

Two commentaries befell this set, the first on "Diary" with Miller and the film's co-writer Bennett Tranner. They spot some of the familiar faces in the movie and recall how some of the scenes came together, and how hard it was financially for Lewis to realize this role. He does recall how he cracked up in a scene or how others did, and recall personal information of some of those in the movie. There is some watching as they get swept up in the nostalgia but it is a nice track. The other commentary is for "Drunks," also with Lewis, but this time with Peter Cohn, the film's director. Many of the same themes in the first commentary resurface here, such as the origin for the film, spotting now-famous supporting actors and some joking to lighten any random dark mood. A nice complement to the film like "Diary" but hardly mind-blowing either.

Final Thoughts:

Bundle of Nerves is four and a half hours of deep cuts, so you have to put time in on Richard Lewis before deciding whether this is for you. If not, in a vacuum this set does have some laughs but comes off as more self-indulgent than anything else. Richard Lewis' work deserves a bit more justice from Richard Lewis.

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