Monday, November 14, 2011

Clowns Making Films — Part Three

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Everyone makes movies these days so why not clowns? Recent efforts I've come across range from filmed clown gags to full-blown attempts to recreate silent film comedies. You saw several of these in this recent post; at least you did if you know what's good for you! Those were all pieces presented this fall at the NY Clown-Theatre Festival. Here are some more that have come to my attention over the past couple of years, though I wouldn't be surprised if this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Before undertaking such a project, there are a lot of choices you'd have to make. Is it silent or sound? If silent, why? Modern or retro? Color or black & white? Do the comic characters dress and speak more or less naturalistically, or are they heavily stylized? Do we see them as "clowns" or as "normal people" whose behavior just happens to be highly eccentric? Do they live in 1911 or 2011? — or in some twilight zone?

The movies we showed in the festival and the movies in this post all have different answers to these questions, so judge for yourself!

The Blind Date
Let's start with the movie that sticks closest to original silent comedy style, Patrick McCarthy's Chaplin tribute film, The Blind Date.  According to Ben Model, who supplied the link, "it was shown at the Chaplin conference last year, where David Robinson saw it and invited Patrick and his film to Pordenone this year." [Robinson is the author of the definitive bio, Chaplin: His Life and Art.]

In case you're wondering, the idea of imitating Chaplin goes way back to the heyday of his popularity, back before 1920, when an international Chaplin craze led to many a Chaplin imitation contest. Chaplin himself once entered one of these as a joke — and lost!

Wally on the Run
Next up is a short piece by veteran American circus clowns Trick Kelly and Steve Copeland, former Ringling performers who have worked with the one-ring Kelly Miller Circus for the past four years. That show, by the way, has received rave reviews as a very strong traditional one-ring circus, and I'm still kicking myself for having missed it last summer. In this piece, made for a music video contest for a Steve Martin banjo album, they bring the circus clown outdoors, in full makeup and costume, making good use of the camera so that the choreography nicely fills the larger setting.

There's a funny video interview with the duo here, and you can visit Steve's life-on-the-road blog here.

Happy Hour is or was a physical comedy trio comprised of Ambrose Martos, Mark Gindick, and Matthew Morgan. I've seen their stage show twice, and it has some pretty robust physical clowning. Rebound! is a zany film that transports their wacky characters from the stage to their own special urban playground.

See three more Happy Hour movies by going here and clicking on Video.

How to Quiet a Screaming Child
Drew Richardson, aka Drew the Dramatic Fool, is a solo theatre clown who has also made a continuing series of silent films. In fact, he bills himself as the "first person in the 21st century to make new short silent movies for mainstream movie theaters." Although these are solo pieces, usually filmed indoors, the cinematography and music lend them a vintage silent movie quality. In this one, Drew uses visual effects to play against himself. If that seems too modern to you, check out the use of the same effect by that brilliant Hollywood VFX artist, Buster Keaton, in The Playhouse (1921) and other movies!

• More silent movies starring Drew here.
• Purchase a DVD of twelve silent shorts by Drew here.
• A silent movie with students from Gallaudet University, directed by Drew.
• A silent movie Drew made with Joe's Movement Emporium Theatre Tech Program

The Big Lock Out
Bello Nock has a well-deserved reputation as a top-notch daredevil circus clown, but did you know he also makes silent films? Well, sorta-kinda. Back in 2007, Colorado businessmen Mark Marguiles and Kerry Berman decided that there weren't enough wholesome movies for families to watch, so they looked to the heyday of silent film comedy for inspiration. Feeling that Bello Nock was a perfect match for the project — "he was born eighty years too late," says Mark — and eager to get Bello's formidable comedic talents before a broader (movie theatre) public, they managed to pry Bello away from the circus ring long enough to feature him in a series of four short silent movies.

Unfortunately, distribution did not live up to expectations and the company, Family Flickers, has since been dissolved, though Mark says they'd be interested in reviving the effort if the sponsorship were there. Personally I find it amazing that in this day and age, when we all watch videos of different lengths and styles on the internet, that commercial movie houses still adhere to the same rigid format of having the same feature film run repeatedly throughout the day. What if every feature were preceded by a short film? Wouldn't that introduce variety and encourage all sorts of talent? Seems like a no brainer to me.

End of rant. Thanks once again to Ben Model for turning me on to this, and of course to Mark, Kerry, and Bello for their production efforts and for sharing The Big Lock Out with us!

12 Steps to Making a Slapstick Film
I'm sure at least half of you are starting to entertain the idea of making your own slapstick movie. If so, here's all you'll ever need to know (heh-heh), courtesy of the Bristol Silents Slapstick Festival, by way of Jonathan Lyons.

Somehow I think there'll be a part four to this one of these days....

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