Review: The Clowns DVD

STUDIO: Raro Video | DIRECTOR: Federico Fellini | CAST: Federico Fellini, Riccardo Billi, Tino Scotti, Fanfulla, Dante Maggio
RELEASE DATE: 3/1/2011 | PRICE: DVD $29.98
BONUSES: Fellini short film, documentary, more
SPECS: NR | 92 min. | Foreign language comedy | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 2.0 mono | English with Italian subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The Clowns movie scene

The belly laugh is on in The Clowns.

A lesser Fellini is still a Fellini. And that’s a fitting opening for a review of The Clowns, the 1972 feature-length television production that’s getting its first Stateside digital release from Raro Video.

“Lesser” might not be the right word, but in the context of Federico Fellini’s other films from the early 1970s — Roma, Satyricon and the masterful AmarcordThe Clowns isn’t one of the heavy hitters. But watching Raro’s gorgeous remastered edition, I found it more engaging than I had remembered from a VHS version I saw 20 years ago. The Maestro’s colorful, free-styled, “Fellini-esque” (the only time I’ll use that word) movie on the circus folk who made such an impression on him in his youth (and subsequently in his films) is actually a real treat, a must-see for fans and not a drastic choice for newbies.

The Clowns‘ episodic narrative alternates between a fiction — dreamy vignettes of clowns doing what they do in under a traveling circus tent — and a TV-style documentary that follows a film crew (headed by Fellini himself) as they make a documentary on the history and mystique of circus clowns. But as this is Fellini in his indulgent mode, within the fictions are real, veteran clown performers, while the “fake” documentary offers interviews and testimonials from real Italian clowns.

Fiction and reality crash into each for a climactic clown funeral ending, an extended, inspired sequence that exemplifies Amarcord-era Fellini’s brilliance at crafting cinematic moments that are exhilarating, sentimental and sad all at once. It’s really nice stuff, and it looks gorgeous in widescreen. (The Clowns was originally broadcast on RAI in television’s usual 1.33:1 dimension.)

Raro has done a first-rate job with two solid bonus features. First is La Agenzia Matrimoniale, a punchy 15-minute black-and-white short that the filmmaker contributed to the 1953 anthology film L’Amore in Citta (Love in the City). Then there’s Adriano Arpa’s 45-minute documentary Fellini’s Circus, which looks at the director and his jones for circuses and clowns. It’s all colorfully packaged and housed along with a 50-page booklet edited by Arpa that features a bunch of essays, a history of the film, and drawings of clowns by you-know-who.

The booklet even includes a Fellini bookmark!

How Fellini-esque. Oops.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.