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CLOWNS, THE (TV)(director/writer: Federico Fellini; screenwriter: Bernardino Zapponi; cinematographer: Dario Di Palma; editor: Ruggero Mastroianni; music: Nino Rota; cast: Federico Fellini (Himself), Riccardo Billi (Clown), Tino Scotti (Clown), Fanfulla (Clown), Dante Maggio (Clown), Galliano Sbarra (Clown), Pierre Etaix (Clown), Annie Fratellini (Clown), Charlie Rivel (Clown); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: G; producers: Elio Scardamaglia/Ugo Guerra; Levitt-Pickman; 1971-Italy/France/West Germany-in Italian with English subtitles)
Valentine to the world of clowns.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Federico Fellinin’s (“Roma”) The Clowns was originally made for RAI-TV (Italy) and was also released theatrically. The entertaining documentary, a minor film in Fellini’s rich oeuvre, is his Valentine to the world of clowns, where he not only pays his respect to the clowns but has a blast poking fun at everyone including himself. But it’s also a movie spoofing documentaries and a personal movie reflecting the tumultuous nature of the filmmaker, whose mood swings vary from jubilation to melancholy over the passing of an era when clowns were respected all over the world. The film benefits by being less self-indulgent than most of his films.

The Clowns (also known as I Clowns) has two fictionalized things going for it that are very touching: an eye-opening beginning and a moving conclusion that is a heartfelt tribute to the clowns. It begins with a trip down memory lane where a little boy sneaks into his first circus and is overwhelmed by the myriad of acts and all the colorful costumes. At home he reflects on the chalky faced clowns and says they frightened him; there are a number of wonderful scenes that reconstruct Fellinin’s own childhood experiences with the circus and provide an understanding for his lifelong obsession with clowns. The middle part involves Fellini interviewing a wide variety of clowns in Paris and presenting many older clowns who have been long forgotten. Fellini also touches on some historical moments in the circus, and the clowns seem pleased to tell of their adventurous lifework to Fellini and his television crew. It ends in a symbolic mock funeral staged by the clowns in a circus ring. In the last shot, a trumpet is played by a lone saddened clown and the music bounces across an empty ring lit by a spotlight.

It’s an easy film to be drawn to. The visuals are pure Fellini-esque; while the story is accessible. Nino Rota’s evocative score captures the circus mood. If you want to know some deeper clown stuff, there’s that to. Much is made about the classification of the white clown and the more familiar “Auguste” clown. Several once famous clown acts are covered such as the Fratellini family and the film clown Pierre Etaix. The film serves as a reminder that the once great clowns are no longer with us or are dying off without being replaced. It’s sadly noted that the public’s taste has changed concerning clowns and the importance of the circus. Fellini leaves us with the bittersweet message that we must now be our own clowns in this much too serious world.REVIEWED ON 2/8/2005 GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”