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Italy, 1970 (MIFF 1971, Programme G)

Director: Federico Fellini

Clowns, freaks, circuses have been consistently recurring facets of Fellini films from La Strada through 8 1/2 to Satyricon. Now Fellini has given bent to his creative sympathies and made The Clowns, produced during an interlude between his last film and next major venture.

The Clowns is an affectionate, semi-autobiographical, semi-documentary film about Fellini's obsession with circuses, and clowns in particular. As if reminiscing, Fellini begins with a small boy awakening to the sounds of a circus tent being erected outside his window. Venturing outside he sees the clowns and is totally captivated by them, Fellini mixes childhood reminiscences with semi-documentary sequences; he interviews old clowns from various countries, unearths survivors of this unique comic art, sheds diverse shades of light on the nature of the Big Top's funny men.

Fellini himself makes frequent appearances in front of the camera, often sending himself up. He stages a spectacular finale, in which he features as master of ceremonies, clownish to the extreme, relating the demise of the circus jester in a world too tragically engrossed in material excesses to sustain the poetic fantasy of the greasepaint freaks.

Few films have that touch of genius that can entertain the masses and still contain sub rosa significance for film buffs. Duality is a rare event in cinema and/or television: yet Fellini pulled it out of his hat in record time with skilled ease.

Nino Rota's outstanding score, Dario De Palma's adept lensing, Danilo Donati's fanciful costuming and Ruggerio Mastroianni's first-rate pacing all stem from lop flight careers in cinema and lend accent to the many cinematic qualities of The Clowns.


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