Mar 22, 2011

I Clowns

About 7 years ago, I managed to find a VHS copy of Federico Fellini's TV movie I
Clowns at a Mom and Pop video store. At the time, I had already viewed most of Fellini's greatest works and felt that watching I Clowns would grant me one step closer to finishing the Italian maestros entire filmography. Aside from remembering that it disturbed my girlfriend at the time, I pretty much forgot all about I Clowns and wrote it off as Fellini's most forgettable work. The other day, I was quite grateful to receive a digitally remastered DVD edition of the film from RAROVIDEO. I figured that by watching the new release of I Clowns in a remastered form, I would finally be able to properly assess the cinematic merit of the film in context with Federico Fellini's large and extravagant collection of cinematic works. After opening the box to the handsomely packaged new release of I Clowns, I immediately inserted the disc into my DVD player, and to my surprise, became ecstatically engaged in the carnivalesque cinematic bliss of I Clowns. I must admit that it has been sometime since I watched a film by Federico Fellini, but after watching I Clowns for a couple minutes I soon remembered why I, as well as a good portion of film critics, consider the legendary Italian director to be one of the greatest filmmakers to have ever lived. Whether featuring a circus of extra peculiar looking clowns or a voluptuous blonde bombshell dancing in a water fountain - with his knack for dreaming up a combination of spectacular surrealism and a baroque aesthetic - Federico Fellini's films provide the viewer with a metaphysical experience that champions any live circus or local high-class strip club. In I Clowns, Federico Fellini personally takes the viewer on a pseudo-cinéma vérité journey into the lives, times, and fantastic activities of an eclectic group of circus clowns that gave the director some of his most notable childhood memories. 

Although the legacy of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini has faded into obscurity in Italy, the artistic legacy of Federico Fellini is here to stay. In Rimini, Italy, an airport named after Fellini reminds the world that the Italian filmmaker is one of few artists that gave his patrons the opportunity to cinematically fly. In I Clowns, Fellini pays tribute to performance artists that inspired his love of the fantastic; everyday circus clowns. The subjects range from a farcical fascist clown to legendary silent clown Charlie Chaplin's daughter Alice. Stylistically, I Clowns resembles Fellini's Roma (1972), as both films take the viewer on an abstract autobiographical journey, colorfully illuminating the events and people that truly touched the Italian maestro's majestic life. I Clowns also features Swedish beauty Anita Ekberg, the lovely lady whose iconic appearance in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita is often considered one of the greatest moments of cinema history. Many film critics have criticized the Italian director for being too "self-indulgent", yet with the wonderful life and fantastic dreamlike portraits Fellini gives for these highly personal events, I have never found the director's cinematic "narcissism" to be worthy of harsh criticism. After all, watching a film by Federico Fellini is probably the second best thing to actually taking a trip to Italy. Fellini's love for the people and places that consumed his charmed life are more than apparent in his films. One scene in I Clowns that I found to be especially reflective of Fellini's empathetic character occurs when the filmmaker watches stock footage of his favorite childhood clowns at a museum. Upon viewing the footage, Fellini is immediately taken aback by the fact that the film stock is deteriorating, thus seeing famous clowns from yesterday symbolically fading from memory before his weary eyes. 

"The Clown was always the caricature of a well-established, ordered, peaceful society. But today all is temporary, disordered, grotesque. Who can still laugh at clowns? Hippies, politicians, the man in the street, all the world plays the clown, now." -Federico Fellini

Even though the stock footage of clowns featured in the Italian museum has deteriorated from history, Fellini has guaranteed the immortality of their legacy with I Clowns. Like many of Fellini's other films, I Clowns ends on an extremely high note with a spectacular clown pageant. Despite taking a behind-the-makeup look at clowns, I Clowns manages to retain the mysticism of its subjects. Federico Fellini once considered being a ringmaster during his early years of adulthood, yet in a way, the Italian auteur fulfilled this desire when he decided to direct performers (including clowns) in the form of filmmaking. I Clowns is Federico Fellini's most literal cinematic circus, an extravagant collection of clown vignettes which grant the viewer a household circus without the atrocious smell of elephant feces. From his greatest masterpieces (I Vitellini, 8 1/2, Amacord, etc) to his less notable works (City of Women, Intervista, etc), Fellini stands out as an auteur in the truest sense; a cinematic author who has graciously shared his most intimate autobiographical moments, ranging from teenage group masturbation (Amarcord) to the most revealing moments of self-doubt. Although I Circus is certainly one of Fellini's minor works, any true fan of the Italian filmmaker will find the film to be a memorable experience that involves the viewer from beginning to end. Federico Fellini is known for being a notorious liar, yet the fictional elements of his cinematic autobiography give a truthful account of his jestful soul just the same. 

-Ty E


✗✗ said...

I have always had this weirdness about clowns I don't know what it is. It's not fear, I don't know but this film seems interesting enough to watch. It would be a great way to get an inside look of this lifestyle especially from a director that has appreciation for them. Great Review!

Soiled Sinema said...

Nicole: If you want a good introduction to the cinematic works of Fellini, I highly recommend you checkout his earlier films "La Strada" and "Nights of Cabiria." Both films star Fellini's talent wife Giulietta Masina. Masina has been described as a female Charlie Chaplin. "La Strada" won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1956 I think you can watch "Nights of Cabiria" on Netflix instant viewing.

-Ty E