The Clowns [Blu-ray]
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Federico Fellini's incredible and lengthy oeuvre is filled with the oddity of sideshow performers and his beloved painted faced clowns. The most famous example of this is probably the final scene in his masterpiece 8½, in which there is a parade of clowns marching around the half constructed set piece. In 1970, he had the opportunity to produce a feature length film devoted to his childhood fascination titled, The Clowns, which originally ran as a holiday television special and shortly after received a theatrical release. As a film, The Clowns is an oddity, collecting real life childhood memories of the circus rolling into town and pairing them with an adult Fellini making a mockumentary about the now golden aged entertainers of his youth. It is very much the product of Fellini's brilliant mind, but its strange structure and slowly emerging plot may make it a bit disconnecting to viewers not overly enthused with circus folk.
We are greeted with a grand circus event played out beneath a classic big top. There are all the staples – clowns, wild animals, fire breathers, you name it. It plays out thoroughly, avoiding truncation, letting us take in the experience as if we were a peanut munching member of the crowd. This is followed by Fellini himself and a small documentary crew traveling to Paris in order to investigate the lives of retired circus performers. We follow the faux film crew into the homes of retirees as they recount their fading memories of their circus careers. Along the way he finds one of his stars (Anita Ekberg) in the midst of purchasing a big cat, but the fate of one of his entertainers ends in his passing.
Fellini wasn't one to shy away from exposing personal experience, and though the film is a work of fiction, it certainly pulls from his childhood memories. The film starts in waves of dream like sequences, adding to the feeling of recalled experience. Like his childhood inspiration, the on screen circus is full of humor, breathing in the applause and laughter of its onlookers, but he also felt deeply connected to the adventurous traveling circus lifestyle and made sure to include it as such within his picture. The Clowns is truly a heartfelt nod to one of his biggest artistic influences.
Italian home release label Raro Video has recently developed a US division, and The Clowns makes for a very impressive first Blu-ray release. The recently digitally restored 35mm transfer looks quite good, with fine detail and natural colors intact. No noise or distortion was found at any point. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is paired with the original 2.0 mono track, both sound full and lively with the 5.1 track sounding a bit bigger with added separation. Extras included are quite generous, including a 16 minute short by Fellini titled Un Agenzia Matrimoniale, which was taken from the omnibus film L'Amore In Citta. “Fellini's Circus” is a thorough visual film essay by Fellini expert Adriano Apra discusses Fellini's obsession with clowns and the use of them throughout his filmography. The disc itself comes safely in a digi-pack which is housed in a nicely designed slipcase. Along with the disc is a hefty 50-page booklet with full color drawings and writing by Fellini himself on the film, as well as some scene dissections. It's really quite a nice package and a beautiful Blu-ray debut for Raro Video.
Though it doesn't rank among Fellini's greatest and most influential work, The Clowns is certainly an important part of his filmography, and a welcome new release. The Blu-ray release is a wonderful package and with a reasonable price, comes as an easy recommendation for fans of the filmmaker.
--Jordan M. Smith
Release Date: October 18, 2011