Friday, April 10, 2009

THE CLOWNS: Fredrico Fellini

Some scenes from Fellini's film with new music by Evelina Lewen.

Can someone tell me if any of the performers in these scenes have an actual circus pedigree? I've never seen any of them outside of the film.

Fellini's assertion that "clowning is dead" isn't really supported when you realize that Popov, Nikulin, Karandash and others were still working in Russia; Charlie Rivel, Charlie Cairoli, The Rastellis, Joe Jackson Jr, Annie Fratellini and Pierre Etaix (just to name a few) were still working in Europe and Lou Jacobs, Emmett Kelly, Mike Coco, Mark Anthony and many others were still working in the States when the film was made. Ringling had just opened it's Clown College! In fact, clowning was extremely healthy and would have made for a far more interesting film if he'd taken that as a premise.


Mr. Pitts said...

All these clowns were actual, European clowns at the time. I can't identify them individually, but if you read IMDB, the cast includes a couple of Fratellinis, Dario, Fumagalli and others, some whose names I recognize, some I don't, but many are listed as 'themselves - Italian clown' etc..
I always found it interesting that Fellini used the theme "Auguste is Dead" and then went on to disprove it in the film. At least that's how I saw it. It's intentionally weird, sure and of course, 'Felliniesque'.. but ultimately gives one a pretty good look at European clowning in the early 70's. I'm glad he made this film.

Peppo the Clown said...

Pat, I understand that Fellini is using the clowns as a symbol of his childhood; his point really was that the clowns/men of the time when he was a child were dead, meaning that his own childhood was dead, that time passes us by... I know, he contradicts this point about clowning many times during the film, but just the same, it's a beautiful movie, full of poetry and the incredible love he always had for clowns... And you are right, in 1970 circus clowning was going strong all over the world. Thank God for that!.

Pat Cashin said...

I'm glad that he made the film too and I do enjoy most of it.

As time goes on I wonder if it isn't more of a missed opportunity though. With so many great clowns still performing at that time it might have been more valuable to have interviewed more of them and interviewed them a bit more thoroughly.

Instead, we see Anita Ekberg. Great. Fascinating.

In contrast, I'm incredibly thankful to the Swedish television producers responsible for the TV special from Circus Scott shot just a few years later. With an emphasis on performance in the ring we have a wonderful document of some of the great international clowns of that time and it only makes me wish that the show were longer and included more artistes.

Somewhere between these two approaches lies the potential for a great television muti-part documentary series to be shot right now collecting the surviving footage of the great clowns of the past and juxtaposing it with performance footage and interviews with some of the great clowns working today.

But, since television and film producers only view clowns as monsters anymore, the chances of something like this being produced are exceedingly slim.

David Carlyon said...

Pat, I think Pitts and Peppo are on to something. Fellini is playing with us. The first time I saw this movie, I scrutinized it with all the intensity of a young man determined to be SERIOUS about clowning, and the apparent message alarmed me. I hadn't even applied to Clown College yet and here was this revered cultural observer saying that clowning is dying. BUT the next time watching, it struck me: The movie is a joke! While Fellini is genuinely filming a legit documentary about the undeniable difficulty of finding info about old clowns, and about the emotional difficulty of re-discovering the feelings evoked by the clowns of your youth, he is ALSO making a comic movie, complete with clown techniques. Notice that his whole crew squeezes into a tiny car? That one of his crew has a drunk's red nose? That the mother tagging along could be a clown in drag, complete with balloon bazooms and butt, and that she nags her son, repeating the old hen-pecked gag? That they bumble trying to get through a door? Fellini's apparent clown-is-dying message is ironic, or at least incomplete. In the conclusion, the funeral both ends with a clown's death AND an eruption of the anarchic spirit behind clowning. The old clowns ARE dying but clowning lives on. Dave

Tommy Moore said...

I was the first person in Philadelphia to see this, the first day it came out...I was ALONE in the theater at 10 AM and stayed for the Noon showing as well, it felt like a private screening...I loved it...and don't overlook that at the end the "dead" clown is "resurrected" of sorts ...fitting for Easter...and symbolic that the clown "lives on"...and at least his "spirit" survives the "angel of death"... Happy Easter, Happy Passover.
Tommy Moore

Anonymous said...

Dave hit the nail right on the head. Sure, Fellini loved the cirus and the absurd. It's apparent in much of his work. I also saw the death more as a death of an era of clowning. And how clowns joke and live life to the fullest -and then they realize that they are suddenly old and their limelight is faded. And new clowns carry on durring the reception of the funeral -while the old ones sit and watch. Ring curb=heaven? Who knows... It's a great film and I think people get out of it -what they get out of it... which is what absurdist theater and art is about. But Dave definately hit the bulls eye with the clowning being in the one place that the crew didn't look--themselves. Bravo. Great discussion. I should start reading more comments.

--Neal Skoy

Raffaele De Ritis said...

The cast of Fellini's clowns is basically composed from comedians and clowns from italian burlesque and music-hall companies, a form called here "avanspettacolo" or "varietà".
They was asked to play and re-enact the classic clowns of the past and their entrèes; others gags were inspired by the italian clown of small circuses, that Fellini regularly visited all during his life. Many of the clowns in the movie were also true circus clowns. The full Colombaioni family (a dozen of peoples) was employed in the funeral sequence. The old clown talking in the ending scene is Fumagalli's father. The main consultant of the movie was no else than Tristan Remy, who supervised in the historical reconstitution of old entrèes, costumes, and make-ups, along with award winner designer Danilo Donati. Additional historical research was done by Mario Verdone(at the time he was the italian leading film and circus historian) founder, along with Remy and others, of the legendary Union des Historiens du Cirque.
I talked many times with Mr.Verdone (today 85) about the movie, and he revealed me a lot of anecdotes and facts, and showed me correspondance and documents. Last November, I shared with Mr.Verdone a lesson about this movie's backgroud at the University of Rome. At the time of the pre-production they contacted many clowns. There are available letters of Chaplin, Groucho, Popov and others about their eventual participation in the movie. The original script includes a scene in Sarasota with the Zacchini cannonball reherasal, and contacts were going on with the Circus Museum there. Fellini said me once to be totally fascinated by Sarasota, by the concept of a city of circus people. He said me that first heard by Sarasota in the 60s by his friend, the legendary French writer George Simenon, who used to spend holidays there (and who also was a friend of Fratellini family).
Fellini regularly used to visit great and small circuses in Italy, so he knew deeply the clown world, as any circus fans. During the preparation of the movie, he repeatedly visited the dressing rooms of Rudi-Llata (at the time in Italy) to learn about classic entrèe mechanisms. Pierre Etaix and Annie Fratellini talked to me hours about how much they shared with Fellini. Other peoples very influent on the movie were the Orfei family. It is in the Orfei circus that they shoot the water entrée with the Orfei clowns of the time, Amleto and Ginetto. The midgets from Orfei's also appears in the movie.
I also talked many times about the movie with member of the Colombaioni family, and I believe that Carlo Colombaioni was the main gagman beside the opening circus sequence and the funeral scene.
I feel lucky to have known most of the peoples involved in this movie, on screen and behind the scenes. There is a lot more to say, mostly about the concept of "the clown is dead". Fellini knew everything about Russians and American clowns of the times: I talked with him a couple of time about that in the early 90s. I think, from his words, that the intended original concept of the movie was not much "the death of the clown" but something as the end of childhood. But is more complicate than that. It is a very long discussion...