Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Reel Opinion: The Day the Clown Returns

Last week, legendary comedian and actor Jerry Lewis sent ripples across the sea of movie news, when he personally delivered his unseen and often-forgotten 1971 film, THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED, to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The delivery of the film came with an agreement that it would not be shown publicly for at least a decade. The news of this film finally having the possibility of seeing a silver screen is huge to move fans and film historians, for THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED has become a bit of a legend. 

For cinema lovers, there is nothing more fascinating than a lost film; that is, a feature or short film that is no longer known to exist in any studio archives, private collections, or public archives such as the Library of Congress. THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED, directed by Lewis, was not so much lost as it was withheld; withheld by Lewis because he was embarrassed about the work. 

Filmmakers have been embarrassed about their efforts throughout time, so what’s the big deal about CLOWN? The answer is as shocking as it is fascinating. The film is a drama set during the Holocaust, in which Lewis plays a German clown named Helmut Doork. When Doork openly mocks Adolf Hitler, he is punished for his crimes by being given the job of entertaining children at a concentration camp before they are sent to the gas chamber. The film has been considered tasteless, and Lewis himself despised the movie. Since 1972, the only surviving film print has been locked away by Lewis, making THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED a real-life unreachable prize for film-lovers; a true Silver Briefcase or Maltese Falcon…maybe not a Holy Grail but a debatable Ark of the Covenant. Coveted, yet feared. 

The idea of a clown leading children to their deaths is a shocking one, and in today’s overly-sensitive, gotta-be-politically-correct-all-the-time society, just feels terrible right away. There seems to have been at least a decent idea in there somewhere…offering comfort to children on the way to their doom, but if Lewis, who was never one to shy away from anything during his long and storied career, was hesitant to let the world see it, then maybe what was captured on film is something that the world is still not ready to see. 

The Holocaust has been explored in depth over the years in film. It has been looked at in the most serious light by Steven Spielberg, who directed the Oscar-winning SCHINDLER’S LIST in 1992, and by Roman Polanski with his film THE PIANIST in 2002. But other films, such as LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1997), and JAKOB THE LIAR (1999), explored similar themes as Lewis tried with CLOWN. The Holocaust, and the war which surrounded it, was such a large world-changing event that it’s impossible to say if all the stories have been told in full. It would be fascinating to have a look at what Jerry Lewis was thinking when he tried to tell one of those stories. The film is not to be released for at least ten years, and Lewis, who is now 89 years old, doesn’t seem to expect to be around that long. If that clown does return, it is this Blogger’s hope that the world will view him as an earnest effort.  

What say you?  

No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.