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I Clowns (The Clowns) - arthouse and international DVD / foreign language DVD / biography DVD / documentary DVD / comedy DVD review
I CLOWNS (The Clowns) Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Featuring: Federico Fellini, Riccardo Billi, Tino Scotti, Fanfulla, Dante Maggio, Anita Ekberg
Director: Federico Fellini   Studio: Raro Video
DVD release: 01 March 2011   Runtime: 92 minutes (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD, NTSC, Subtitled
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 1.33:1, Audio tracks (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono - Italian, French), Subtitles (English), Fellini short film (Un Agenzia Matrimonial), documentary (Fellini's Circus) by film historian Adriano Apra, 50-page illustrated booklet and exclusive original drawings by Fellini

*I Clowns (The Clowns)*Fellini's I CLOWNS (The Clowns) is a fun and colorful way to delve into ontology, the philosophy of representations and appearances--with emphasis on the first half of the sentence. You could safely ignore the ontological cogitating burbling away in the film's interrogative engine, but only if you were really stoned. Otherwise you'd just wonder what the hell was going on, as Fellini and crew caper about... like a bunch of clowns.

I Clowns is part documentary, part screwball comedy, part really deep thinking, and all extraordinarily well imagined and realized. This made for TV movie was released on Christmas day, 1970, around the time of Fellini's other wonderful fantasy films, Satirycon (1969) and Juliet of the Spirits (1965), and perhaps represents a mainstreaming of--or new-found docility in--Italian art film.

That the film is an essay in ontology--the study of being, representation, seeming, and appearance--is actually pretty obvious: what could more clearly be the image of the branch of philosophy that studies being and its semiotically layered representations than the clown? Clowns either make you laugh, cry or yawn with their archetypal representations of types of selves. As beings, we are either raucously funny, bathetically sad, or boring.

In my experience, clowns have mostly been boring. Recently, though, I saw a Cirque du Soleil performance and my view of clowns began to change. Along came Fellini's film in the remarkable restoration by the Italian studio, Raro Video, and I learned that what I had seen in the Cirque du Soleil's clowns' performances was the speaking on of an ancient language: those clowns were, like Fellini's, making a recitation of a dialogue, of an argument, about the nature of being.

And, at least in 1970, Fellini was more on the side of Carl Jung than Jacques Derrida: we are largely ruled by our instinctual appetites as opposed to collectively constructing our shared reality. The latter, in the Fellini-Jung axis, is laughably hubristic: we always, like mimes, run into invisible walls and ceilings -- the facts of nature, the fact that nature always bats last. Fellini's film on clowns is indeed a study of nature and its types, in as much as the film's undercurrent is the awkward and, for Fellini, wry observation that we humans, for the most part, have very little control of who we are. Clowns take cover, put on, and build up by layers of artifice a type of out-of-controlness: bossy and rude, drunk and slovenly, shrinking violet, maniacal prankster. Disproportionately gargantuan and full of wild grace, they accentuate the animalistic -- and it's no surprise to learn that the picturemaker of that ancient Roman narrative documenting the thirst for power and the lust for domination, Satirycon, had a lifelong fascination with clowns.

This delightful film features clown fights, hotties attempting panther buys, and other antics interspersed with a history of clowning and other musings (it is not strictly, as some reviewers have mistakenly stated, a "mockumentary"), all as Fellini and crew travel from Rome to Paris in pursuit of Europe's last great clowns. I Clowns is a scary good time and has been brought back to life by Raro, the studio that is singlehandedly engaged in rebirthing the classics of Italian arthouse.
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reviewed by Brian Charles Clark
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