Clowns have always been a source of laughter and fear for children and adults visiting a circus. The fact that a character clad in colorful clothing and greasepaint can evoke these powerful emotions is pretty amazing. Director Federico Fellini (Armacord, Satyricon, La Dolce Vita) set one of his most personal works around these men (and women) who perform in "The Greatest Show on Earth". In a sense so much of what Fellini put on screen in his creations were a "circus-type" atmosphere just captured on film - it was only natural for the legendary director to do so. Raro Video US has chosen the Italian produced TV film, Fellini's The Clowns to debut as their first Blu-ray in America on the heels of a previous release on DVD.
A young boy awakes from his slumber to some loud noises of banging and men yelling outside his room. No, it’s not a group of hooligans duking it out; it’s a large tent for the circus that has just arrived in town. The festivities start the following day with all the usual suspects on hand: The Lion Tamer, stunt cyclists, the strong lady, midgets galore and of course a wide variety of clowns. Fellini brings the viewer in much like a friend or family member enjoying the big top antics alongside him. The combination of documentary and a partially story-driven piece certainly gives The Clowns experience a unique feel instead of having a straight narrative.
When we’re not seeing the clowns perform we’re dipping into the lives of the men behind the painted on smile. Several are interviewed, some former clowns reminiscing on their bygone years in the circus showing photos from picture albums. At a few points during the film Fellini shows some of the eccentric folk in the city. One person of not that I can’t get out of my mind was a crazy dwarf nun who spends half her time at the convent and the other at the local mental hospital. People are sometimes the best production value, this is something Fellini latched onto very early with his previous works – The Clowns is no different.
Raro Video's release also delivers quite impressively with its transfer of the film. The Clowns looks absolutely lovely on Blu-ray with its rich texture and pin-point color correction. Nothing appears waxy or subjected to digital noise reduction, so that's a plus. I didn't see Raro's DVD release so I can't really compare the two but from my previous viewing (on video) this looks like a different film. The audio is sharp in its native Italian with very readable and well translated English subtitles.
The extra features on The Clowns are another area deserving of praise. Raro has dug up a rare Fellini short film called Un Agenzia Matrimoniale that follows the efforts of a man using a marriage agency to find love. It's an enjoyable enough short that proves to be a nice inclusion on the release considering I'd never seen one of Fellini's shorts.
Fellini's Circus is a visual essay by Fellini historian, Adriano Apra. This is a very thorough look at the feature that comes complete with behind-the-scenes photos, drawings and some interesting input by Apra. What is probably my favorite extra is the gorgeous, full-color booklet that's included in the Blu-ray case. This not only has photos from the film and notes about the movie but some cool drawings of the various clowns are also included in the 50 page booklet. A very nice touch!
Raro Video US has definitely debuted their Federico Fellini's The Clowns Blu-ray in style with it's sharp transfer and generous extras. Here's hoping they continue to bring more of these Italian cinema delights to Hi-Def. Recommended!