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The Clowns (Blu-ray Review)

Normally I would take this first paragraph of space to kind of tease the following Blu-ray, but after having just witnessed something touching and truly extraordinary I’ll let Federico Fellini do some of the talking:  Others have commented on the circus.  It’s an inflated framework, drowned with literary allusions.  Yet, despite it all, it does exist, re-introducing itself as a precise nucleus: a dimension and an authentic atmosphere that is not possible to archive, that is not covered in dust, because that life-style and the way of portraying itself include, in an exemplary way, some long-lasting myths: the adventure, the journey, the risk, the chance, the rush, the presence in the spotlight…  – Federico Fellini

Film 

The Clowns is Federico Fellini’s ultimate tribute to the circus and clowns.  Considering that most of his work, in one way or another, feature clowns, circuses, and fantasy.  It was no wonder why he should not make a film completely dedicated to that kind of magic.

The Clowns opens up with a young boy waking up to loud noises which are coming from across the way as the circus has come to his town and are preparing to set up shop.  That’s in the opening five minutes, but from there on out, there are many parts of the film in which I found myself asking if I was watching a real film or documentary or something else altogether.  It threw me for loop!

We get early performances by a circus troupe and then the  clowns themselves.  At one point we are with Fellini as he is assembling a “documentary” crew to travel with him to document the fascination with the circus and the clowns themselves.  Fellini wishes to track down the clowns of yesteryear.  On this quest we pack it up tight into a very small automobile and venture out through Italy and France.

Did I mention where I lost track of what was happening early on?  Good.  The Clowns contains a fractured narrative of sort, but not because it seeks to confuse you on purpose.  It actually aims to enthrall you and make you forget your troubles, if only for a bit.  The opening of the film, is in fact, a recreation of Fellini’s childhood memories.  He was the child waking up to the circus noise.  The other parts, whether they’re real or not – him making the documentary within the documentary may or may not be real – but we’re ask to just believe and go with it.  It’s open to interpretation.  I mean, how many people can you really fit into an ultra tiny European hatchback?  Well, that should have been a clear indicator of what you’re watching.  Those were a lot of people in that tiny ass car. 😉

Along the way Fellini encounters the beautiful Anita Ekberg (La Dolce Vita) who is taking a private tour of the circus and comments on purchasing a panther for herself.  Then Fellini begins taking glamor shot stills of her in a random fashion.  End of cameo.

The other scenes of exquisite beauty are the performance pieces of the many clowns throughout.  Who would have thought that clowns could be contemporary performers?  The interviews with who may or may not be prior clowns of the past is also very heartwarming.  Were these old senior citizens really clowns of the past?  I couldn’t tell.  Fellini conducts the interviews himself, so they could be.  See, it’s what I was saying earlier: The Clowns is a docu-mock-comedy-film feature.  What you choose to believe is entirely up to you.

I had made a comment about doing a Fellini trilogy viewing with 8 1/2 and Amarcord and a friend was quick to make mention that I should pace myself.  I now know the reason why.  Fellini, like Jodorowski isn’t a director whose films you can just simply crank out one after the other.  These film experiences need to breathe and fill your head with the experience of being there – good or bad.  The Clowns is simply a magical piece of cinema art.

 

Video

The Clowns is presented in 1080p, 1.33:1 (4×3), full frame.  The Clowns was originally made for television way back in the day, so that’s what’s up with it being full fullscreen.  Don’t let that turn you off.  The Clowns is more than forty years old now, and you wouldn’t know it.  Flesh tones, when present, are natural and never flush.  Color saturation is pristine, as the clowns really are the stars of the show.  Their brilliant make-up designs were made for high definition.  Grain level is consistent and I did not notice any overuse of DNR.  Softness is also absent, which is great, because the image does not look flat at all.  Sharpness levels are on point, but there are few instances of edge enhancement.  Black levels also remain steady with very little crush and contrast levels also remain stable.  The forces over at Raro Video have done The Clowns justice! 

Audio 

The Clowns is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 and also has a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack.  I went with the 5.1 for this review.  Music and spectacle are the stars of the show and they compliment the visual aesthetic perfectly.  Dialogue is spot on, as are the various musical numbers.  The Clowns is a front heavy presentation, but I was surprised at how active the LFE was.  On certain cues it would just power on and enhance what was already onscreen.  It is a fairly loud soundtrack, so be aware of that, because it looks as if The Clowns want you front and center for the show.  Ambient sounds are handled well by the surround channels, but they don’t bleed into the fronts.  The Clowns come through on Blu-ray nicely.

Special Features 

The Clowns has a few notable special features which are of quality.  There is a visual film essay with Fellini expert Adriano Apra which examines Fellini’s obsession with the circus.  It also dissects the film in terms of length of shots, frame rates, and so forth.  It’s pretty fascinating stuff.  There’s a short film by Fellini that was made in 1953 called Un Agenzia Matrimoniale (A Marriage Agency) which is a pretty cool little film in its own right.  Rounding things out is a 50 page booklet that features tons of added information, notes, and artwork by Federico Fellini.

  • Un Agenzia Matrimoniale, a short movie by Federico Fellini – 1953, 16 min, 35mm, b/w.
  • Fellini’s Circus, a visual film essay by Adriano Apra.  Federico Fellini Expert and film Historian, Adriano Apra examines the director’s lifetime fascination with the circus while also comparing its stylistic features to other Fellini films.  In Italian with English subtitles.
  • A 50-page booklet on Fellini’s own reflections and notes concerning the genesis and production of the film. Also included are exclusive original drawings by the director himself.

Final Thoughts

If you’re experiencing Fellini for the first time, I would suggest taking on The Clowns first.  It has a brisk running time, and will probably be the most accessible of his films.  I mean, who doesn’t like clowns?  Don’t answer that.  This Blu-ray edition by Raro Video is very impressive and I know that most of you will enjoy the presentation.  The book included in the package is just icing on the proverbial cake.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

 

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

2 Responses to “The Clowns (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Matt Goodman

    I’ll ignore my hate for clowns and check this out 😉 Good write up.

  2. Gerard Iribe

    Thanks Matt!