BLU-RAY REVIEW: I CLOWNS (THE CLOWNS) / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: FEDERICO FELLINI / SCREENPLAY: FEDERICO FELLINI, BERNARDINO ZAPPONI / RICCARDO BILLI, FEDERICO FELLINI, GIGI REDER / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 27TH
Federico Fellini’s oeuvre is so loaded with strange and influential films that it’s easy for some to get overlooked in favour of Juliet of the Spirits or 8½. The Clowns, however, as part of the Masters of Cinema series has been given the Blu-ray overhaul and plays more like a curiosity than some great underappreciated part of the director’s work.
The Clowns, a barmy blend of documentary and fantasy, may very well have been made for TV, but it did receive a simultaneous theatrical release. Articulating his own complicated fascination with circus performers, the film is almost a companion piece to Fellini’s masterful 1954 film La Strada, which captured the circus in a fuller, less rose-tinted light.
That isn’t to say that The Clowns was shot with blinkers on, it does capture the energy and exploitation of the big top, but with little of the cruelty. In any case, it’s certainly superior to Roma, which, two years later, adopted a similar chaotic structure with less of the insight or humour.
Though there isn’t much in the way of narrative, Fellini does talk of his early experiences of the circus and how he, like many, was scared of clowns; wistfully conjuring up an Italy filled with grotesques, themselves clowns by any other name. Starting by simply narrating the piece, he soon takes up the role of interviewer, leading the viewer on a tour through seminal circus performers throughout Italy and France. There’s even Charlie Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine with a bubble machine.
In typical Fellini fashion, it’s quite odd, beautifully shot and lit with all the knowing of a renaissance painting, indeed the primitive pleasure of the circus has perhaps never looked as good on screen. But it’s not without its sadness, with many of those interviewed and Fellini himself stating that the circus of their past no longer exists.
There may very well be moments of laughter and enlightenment, though the sequences of clowning do grow tiresome quickly and while it does wear thin, it’s always well shot. In searching for the clowns place in history and society, Fellini proved again why he’s such a revered and significant filmmaker.
Extras: Fellini's Circus