The Clowns (1970/2011)
Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Anita Eckberg, Riccardo Billi, Geraldine Chaplin, Fellini
Studio: Gianluca & Stefano Curti/Raro Video RVDUSA 001 [3/1/11]
Music: Nino Rota
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: Italian or French DD 2.0 mono
Extras: “A Matrimonial Agency” – Fellini short of 1953 (16 min.), “Fellini’s Circus” – film essay by Fellini expert Adriano Apra, 50-page illustrated booklet with Fellini’s reflections on the film and his exclusive original drawings of the clowns
Length: 92 minutes
Not Fellini’s greatest film of course, but an intriguing visual essay on the Italian director’s obsessive fascination with the circus and clowns. It takes the form of a sort of pseudo documentary; in fact there are several scenes of the purported crew and Fellini himself telling them what to shoot. Instead of a narrative voiceover, or a talking head of a so-called expert explaining about the backgrounds of the various clowns, he has his purported glamourous script girl reading from his notes to the camera while various preparations go on around her to film some of the retired clowns.
The opening of the film shows a young boy watching a circus set up outside his bedroom window and then wandering down to the magical place and watching the clowns and animal trainers do their thing. However, when he is formally taken to see the circus he is frightened by the clowns, their heavy makeup and crudeness, and ends up bawling his head off. Mostly it is a nostalgic visit to some of the circuses and great clowns of the past, who often show scrapbooks and photos of them in their prime. Some do little bits from their acts. As in his other films, there are blends of ecstatic celebration running up against deep sorrow. Occasionally Fellini departs somewhat from the clown theme to show some other characters, such as an odd hobo, a crippled Mussolini follower, and once again his beloved midget nun. Fellini plays himself, and Ekberg as well, but she is supposedly visiting the circus to buy a tiger for a pet.
The dreamlike visits to the clowns of the past concludes with the most extended scene in the film – the final one of a parody of a clown’s funeral. My favorite was the lead two-man “horse” of the multi-horse-drawn carriage, who was not following his master’s orders and clearly trying to stir up the other horses to revolt. Many of Nino Rota’s themes from other Fellini movies are recycle here, often played by the circus band.
The B&W short by Fellini is rather strange, with an unsatisfying conclusion, and the visual essay has some interesting information but repeats many long clips from the actual film which you see again when you view the film. Some of its analyses of the film’s construction (with bar charts and all the trimmings) seem so extreme as to be almost a parody. The restoration, by some Italian government institute, is well done, and the printed booklet with Fellini’s drawings is a collectible gem.
— John Sunier