Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Shoes: Today's Clowns in Europe

[post 116]

Finally a serious documentary about clowning!

But first some historical perspective:

When famed film director Federico Fellini produced I Clowns for Italian television in 1970, he created a pseudo-documentary, part nostalgia, part fantasy that seduced much of the public but offended many in the world of European clowning.  Fellini's premise was that clowning was dead, a conclusion he apparently came to before doing any serious research.

Somehow Fellini with all his resources could not even find any footage of classic clowns. Instead we get a futile visit to an archive to see a short clip of the great clown Rhum, only to have the film reel start to burn up in the projector. Clearly the past was lost. 

He either did not know or it did not fit his preconceived notions to mention that there was lots of footage of Charlie Rivel, that Grock's entire one-man show had been caught on film more than once, and that this very same Rhum had co-starred in a series of short films with Jacques Tati in the 30s! 

Enuf said, but if you want more on the controversy, here's the reaction the Fellini film got from the writers of the publication, Cirque dans l'Univers (#81):

Now comes along a new film that attempts to update clown history by covering performers in Europe who it credits with saving a lost art.  Here's their synopsis:

New Shoes: Today’s Clowns in Europe is a unique and original documentary about clowns of the turn of the century, from Carlo Colombaioni up to the present. It offers a vision of the contemporary clown from the point of view of the most renowned figures of the genre, who show us how they think and act, onstage and off. Through the play of two young clowns, we discover how these actors and the clowns they incarnate face the different aspects of life.

And here's their trailer for it:

The good news is that you can now see a short (54-minute) segment of the documentary on the web. Fundraising is continuing so as to release a full-length, 84-minute version on DVD, complete with special features.

Based on what I've seen, this is a substantial piece of work.  Although I might question the premise that just a few decades ago clowning was dead, only to be rescued by this film's featured performers, what it does do is provide insight into a significant development in the history of clowning: the migration of the clown not only from the circus to the theatre, but into our political and social fabric, as evidenced by such welcome phenomena as hospital clowning, more women in clowning, and Clowns without Borders.

“The circus would give you 10 minutes and I wanted 2 hours.” 
— Carlo Colombaioni


What I like most about the film is that it lets the clowns speak for themselves — performers and teachers such as Philippe Gaulier, Jango Edwards, Leo Bassi, Johnny Melville, Gardi Hutter, Peter Shub, Slava Polunin, Carlo Colombaioni, and many more — and they are all quite eloquent on issues of creativity, career, gender, and the essence of being a clown. What seems missing in this shorter version and I would hope to see in the final movie are more and longer performance clips.  I've seen a lot of these artists perform, but many potential viewers haven't.  I think there's a need for more evidence of what this new movement in clowning looks like, even granted that the best clowning can not be fully captured on video.

Though a documentary such as this only scratches the surface of a complex subject, I'm pretty sure you will find this work well worth your time.  And now you can view the 54-minute version at the web site by clicking here.

TECH NOTE:  I had problems getting the movie to stream when using the Firefox browser, but it worked fine with the Chrome browser.  It may have been network traffic rather than the browser, but if you have problems, try Chrome.

Like the movie, appreciate the great effort, want to help them complete the final version? Then consider making a donation at the clownbaret web site.


rtravi20 said...

I too am having problems getting this to play. It freezes up. Anyone got any ideas? Or is there another source?

Mondomando said...

Does anyone know if the full version DVD has been released? ... and if so, how it may be obtained. I have really enjoyed the 54 minute version.