Sog., Scen.: Federico Fellini, Bernardino Zapponi. F.: Dario Di Palma. M.: Ruggero Mastroianni. Scgf.: Renzo Gronchi. Mus.: Nino Rota. Int.: Riccardo Billi, Tino Scotti Fanfulla, Gigi Reder, Leopoldo Valentini, Carlo Rizzo (i clown), Nando Orfei (se stesso), Anita Ekberg (se stessa), Alvaro Vitali (il fonico), Lina Alberti (la sarta, madre del fonico). Prod.: Ugo Guerra, Elio Scardamaglia per Rai – Radio Televisione Italiana, O.R.T.F., Bavaria Film. DCP. D.: 92’. Col.
At his most rewarding, Federico Fellini mixed factual backgrounds with subjective fantasy. I clowns, Roma, and Amarcord are not limited to recording surface impressions but grow into an exalted assembly of memories of the private and collective past (most memorably about the Fascist 1930s), fantasies, and fears. I clowns, which could have been a nostalgic little memoir about a trade that no longer exists, rises to a Weltanschauung as a meditation on the circus of life, all stages of which have their voluntary and involuntary entertainers. In this way I clowns expands – always mediated by a subjective vision – into an account of a society that needs humour to conceal and forget for a moment an omnipresent horror.
Certain films by Fellini were explicitly based on nightmares. More originally, Fellini specialised in a fresco style of his own: Satyricon, I clowns and Amarcord were followed by one of the finest, Casanova, in which a historical vision channels a mercilessly modern sensibility and awareness of self-deceit.
The Fellinian documentary was a category of its own, reaching far into the realm of fiction. Already in Bloc-notes di un regista Fellini was fascinated by the idea of the ‘false documentary’ that became a quintessentially Fellinian mode from then on. Such an approach was in the air: after Pasolini, Marker, etc., came F for Fake. For some reason, an ironical approach to ‘truth’ started there and then.
Subjectivity was Fellini’s greatest talent, even when he created baroque spectacles. I clowns became a film about the horror of putting on a show and Fellini’s recurrent theme of the has-been. Straight records of performances were intercut with gloomy tableaux of childhood and vignettes such as an old alcoholic clown’s escape from an asylum to a circus auditorium to die. Instead of a joyous chronicle about the comeback of the great funnymen, I clowns offers an existential meditation about fame and oblivion, truth and illusion, youth and old age, life and death.
Peter von Bagh, Elokuvan historia [History of the Cinema] (1975/2004) and his posthumous notes (2014), translated by Antti Alanen