Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"The Clowns" Is Pure Fellini

Cleveland Press October 4, 1971

"The Clowns" is an extraordinary movie in the most literal sense of the word. It is very much out of the ordinary, an exceptional film that defies classification.

That it is a documentary about clowns is only partly true and only a small measure of its vast merit. It is also a key to the films of Federico Fellini, a mirror of the Fellini world, another dip into autobiography, a funny movie, a sad movie.

It is a picture to enjoy at all levels, at any age; by those who have been intrigued by this Italian director's movies over the years and by those who have never seen them.

Fellini starts with his boyhood memory of circuses and clowns and how, while they were funny, they also were real and sometimes frightening.

They reminded him of the people of his hometown -- the village idiot, the pompous station master, the poolroom crowd. Over and over again there are the faces, those wonderful faces that have been characteristic of Fellini's films.

"The clowns of my childhood, where are they today?" Fellini asks as he serves as narrator. He then shows us himself and his crew searching Rome and Paris for the great clowns of the past and for those who have memories of them.

The famous acts are recalled and then re-created for the camera. As a gentle spoof of the entire enterprise Fellini's crew are also low-key clowns -- the dumb-blonde script girl reading passages in a flat delivery, the odd-looking wardrobe mistress, the face-making cameraman, Fellini himself.

As a documentary "The Clowns" is an examination of the European traditions, a formal classification of the white clown and the more familiar clown, the "Auguste."

The importance of clowns and circuses has been apparent in most of the Fellini movies. These have ranged from "La Strada" with its out-and-out circus setting to "8-1/2" with its conclusion in which all the characters come out and parade around circus rings. It has been copied so often by other directors that it is known as a Fellini ending. And in between there was the clown in a nightclub sequence in "La Dolce Vita."

"The Clowns" brings to the surface the underlying thread in so many of his movies and dramatizes and glorifies it in its own right. He works in clean, brilliant colors. The picture is vividly visual and there is no language barrier in it.

Nino Rota's evocative musical background (especially the use of a plaintive trumpet) reinforces the film superbly.

Fellini's research indicates that the time of great clowns is dead. The clowns are still around but somehow we fail to recognize them. More important, we fail to recognize the clowns all around us, the clowns in ourselves.

"The Clowns" is very funny and just a little sad, sad in that it reminds us that a simpler, happier world is dying -- or perhaps is already dead.