Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chapter 5 — Supplemental Material

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As I said in my previous post, I have a bunch of additional material relevant to each of the twelve chapters of Clowns. This is especially true of Chapter 5, because it focuses on physical comedy. In fact, you could view this entire blog as Chapter 5 supplemental material! In addition, I'm still a huge fan of the Hanlon-Lees and I could overwhelm you with stuff on them, but I'm going to wait for the publication this fall of Mark Codson's book (see below) to dive back into their work.

That being said, a few miscellaneous goodies...


On pages 5-6, I talk about nineteenth-century performers such as Mazurier and Klischnigg, who did remarkable imitations of monkeys, starring in vehicles such as Jocko, or the Monkey of Brazil. You can get some sense of what that might have been like from this comic turn by Buster Keaton in his brilliant short, The Playhouse (1921).


Baudelaire on clowns: the Vertigo of Hyperbole

When Tom Mathews' English pantomime troupe visited Paris in 1853, one of the spectators was the French poet, Charles Baudelaire. Despite his well-known interest in the macabre and the grotesque, Baudelaire was somewhat taken aback by the British clown, the "English Pierrot."

I shall long remember the first English pantomime that I saw. . . It seemed to me that the distinguishing characteristic of this genre of comedy was violence. . . . The English Pierrot was by no means this character pale as the moon, mysterious as silence, supple and mute as the serpent, lean and long as a pole, to which we were accustomed by Deburau. The English Pierrot comes in like a whirlwind, falls like a bale, and when he laughs he makes the room shake; his laughter sounds like joyful thunder. He is a short, thick fellow, who has increased his bulk by a costume filled with ribbons. On his whitened face he has crudely plastered — without gradation or transition — two enormous slabs of pure red. His mouth is made longer by a simulated prolongation of the lips in the form of two carmine strokes, so that when he laughs his mouth seems to open from ear to ear. . . . His moral nature is basically the same as that of the Pierrot we know: insouciance and neutrality, leading to the realization of all the rapacious and gluttonous desires, to the detriment sometimes of Harlequin, and sometimes of Cassandre or Léandre. But where Deburau thrust in the point of his finger so that he might afterwards lick it, the clown thrusts in both hands and both feet, and this may express all that he does: his is the vertigo of hyperbole. This English Pierrot passes by a woman who is washing her doorstep: after emptying her pockets, he seeks to cram into his own the sponge, the broom, the soap, and even the water.... Because of the peculiar talent of the English actors for hyperbole, all these monstrous farces take on a strangely gripping reality.

— De L'Essence du Rire
(my translation)


In the book, I described The Duel Between Two Clowns, a clown act between Boswell and one of the Price Brothers (apparently William) involving an attempted two-high, a ringmaster, a duel, and some quick change. Amazingly there is an actual transcript of this routine from the 1840s in Entrées Clownesques, a collection of clown texts compiled by the great French circus historian, Tristan Rémy. I have no idea what the original source for this document is. Rémy's book was translated into English by Bernard Sahlins as Clown Scenes (Chicago: Dee, 1997). Unfortunately, for some reason he only includes 48 out of the 60 entrées contained in the original, and Le Duel Entre Deux Clowns ain't one of them. Thanks, Bernie, for forcing me back into the highly lucrative clown entrée translation business!

Here it is, hot off the press. Please use your imagination to see beyond the dialogue and picture the act performed by two very strong clowns.



Another link between 19th-century pantomime and early film: First here's a poster of the train wreck from Le Voyage en Suisse (1879):

And now here's a shot from the 1904 Georges Méliès film, The Impossible Voyage, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Coincidence? I think not.

Méliès was, as many of you probably already know, a stage magician who became a pioneer of special effects in early film. And while we're on the subject, the connections between film effects and circus-style performance is the subject of an intriguing blog that you might want to check out: Circo Méliès.


And in my first On the Shoulders of Giants installment, I reinforce the obvious connection between the Byrne Brothers' Eight Bells and Buster Keaton's Neighbors by showing the Keaton clip that brings the poster to life (and then some).


Mistakes? What mistakes?

Probably plenty; here's one.... Mark Codson, whose excellent dissertation on the Hanlons will be published this fall, pointed out that I persisted in translating the title of Le Voyage en Suisse into English, when in fact the show toured to England and the United States with the original French title. I was probably thrown off by a few bi-lingual posters and by a previous commentator or two who also referred to it as A Trip to Switzerland. The correction has been made, so thank you Mark. If anyone has additional corrections, just let me know.
UPDATE (11-17-09): Mark's book is now slated for publication on February 2, 2010. You can order it here.


UPDATE (11-17-09): You can see a version of Auriol's bottle-walking act in Cirkus Cirkör's production, Inside Out. Read all about in in this post.


So what's missing?

It's the second longest chapter in the book, and one of my favorites, but it has at least one glaring omission, the work of American pantomime clown George L. Fox. Yes, I do mention him, but that's about it. He was wildly popular and a colorful character (he went insane), but I think at the time it was hard to find all that much about his actual performing. Or perhaps I just ran out of time.

A few years later, when Bill Irwin was first considering doing a show based on Fox's life, I helped him out with some additional research, including uncovering some original pantomime scripts. It was not until 1999 that Laurence Senelick's excellent study appeared: The Age & Stage of George L. Fox, 1825-1877. Armed with this thorough research, Bill finally did his show, Mr. Fox: A Rumination in 2004 as part of his season of work for the Signature Theatre.

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