Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sinatra Sends in the Clowns

[post 292]

Here's a sweet Frank Sinatra rendition of Stephen Sondheim's Send in the Clowns, the lyrics illustrated by physical comedy bits by many of the great television and film clowns. Odd and treacly afterword from Orson Welles.

Many thanks to my old buddy Louise Curtis for the link!



David Carlyon said...


As someone who long ago fell under the sway of that lovely song, I feel guilty casting a contrary glance. But I feel compelled to point out three things.

First, the song has almost nothing to do with clowns. The lyrics are about a romantic couple unable to get together. (And in context in the musical, it's about an attempt at adultery.) If, referring to comic relief, Sondheim had written "Send in the funnymen" or "baggy-pants comedians," it would never be played as background music for clips of comedians, as in this case. That everyone only hears "send in the clowns" and ignores the rest of the lyrics doesn't alter the point of the song.

Second, a smaller point, it's not Orson Welles being treacly as much as it is a show-biz veteran delivering a treacly script. I don't mean to split hairs, or defend Welles, only to remind that folks in show business are constantly required to offer up shallow bromides that appeal to this audience's patriotism, that audience's need to see itself as hip. I can envision Orson, before taping this, making vicious jokes about how corny this shit was.

Third, joining these (mismatched) lyrics to clips of clowns is as treacly as anything Welles said, and just as cliched. That's especially true when the clips are rendered, sentimentally, in slow motion. The whole thing is sentimental. That's the worst offense, not Welles' script, but stripping of the wild anarchy at the heart of clowning to its most sentimental and sweet.

jt said...

Interesting points, but I can't totally agree. Yeah the song is not "about" clowns, per se, but the first-person narrator uses clowning metaphorically to describe his own behavior, and you don't have to be a Yeats scholar to connect the dots. As for the slo-mo nostalgia approach: yes, not original, but I don't see how it does harm to the full-speed, "anarchistic" originals. It's not like anything's being sanitized or that folks don't know the difference. The Welles spiel is to me more of a put-off: it frames the video as being about the clowns, and tries to capitalize on the "where are the clowns?" line to proclaim the Death of Clowning — not to be confused with the oft-announced Death of the Theatre and Death of the Novel. As for Orson "no wine before its time" Welles, I'm probably less forgiving of all the shilling he did in those days.

Unknown said...

David Carlyon - I've never seen a crappier comment left on a website. You must be a rotten person to know.