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PTH3079 Circus and Silent Mov(i)es

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Barnaby King

on 17 December 2013

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Transcript of PTH3079 Circus and Silent Mov(i)es

Origin of word 'clown'
Old Norse, German and English. E.g. "klont , kluit , and kluts or klots", meaning "clod, clot, or lump".
In various languages was adopted to refer to "clumsy boor, a lout".
Developed from clod/lump into "cloyne, cloine, clowne, and finally...
16th-18th Century: primarily used to mean a rustic peasant, someone ignorant, crass, lacking in manners.
1603 Shakespeare: "The clowne shall make them laugh that are tickled in the lungs" (one of the first recorded uses of clown as performer).
1780 Garrick: "He was a most diverting clown in all the pantomimes of Mr. Rich" (clown becomes a theatrical role in itself).
Philip Astley popularised modern circus from around 1768, based in equestrian acts, and performed in indoor hippodrome/amphitheatres.
Equestrian clowning evolved as a comic alternative to the serious hippodramas (e.g. The Tailor's Ride to Brentford" and "The Peasant's Frolic"). Alongside it we have clowns imitating and making fun of many other circus acts.
Meanwhile, to fill the gaps between acts, sharp-tongued clowns such as Billy Saunders engaged in clever verbal banter and exchanges with the ringmaster. Some of the more successful clowns, such as John Ducrow, developed their own stand-alone clown acts.
Circus clowning developed in two distinct directions...
Equestrian Circus
Simultaneous with the evolution of the circus clown in England, the clown was also thriving in the theatres...
In the 18thC Italian commedia dell'arte was imported to England, but transformed: Pantalone became Pantaloon, Colombina became Colombine, and the earthy trickster Arlecchino became a simple romantic, Harlequin. It's not clear if this was the cause or the result of Joseph Grimaldi inventing the role of clown in the pantomime.
Grimaldi was a sensation in his time (1778-1837), an irreverent and scandalous clown who transformed English pantomime and satirised unremittingly the politics and social fashions of his time. It is said that many circus clowns including John Ducrow imitated his make-up and costume.
The Pantomimes of this era was extravagant affairs with complex stage machinery. The Harlquinade (final part of the Pantomime) was essentially a long slapstick chase scene involving dangerous acrobatics and stage trickery.
"Every clown that has basked long enough in the world's love has grown too small for his boots, taken wings and flown into fancy. And at each metamorphosis the world has to hatch another from a clod" (Maurice Wilson Disher 1925: 34).
Grimaldi's Clown
French Pierrot
Meanwhile, in France commedia and clown developed in a different direction...
Jean-Gaspard Deburau transformed the Pierrot of commedia from a minor mask into the star of the show, complex and mutable compared to the grotesque and satirical English clown Grimaldi.
Napoleon's decree of 1807 severely restricted theatres in Paris. Popular theatres like Theatre des Funambules, flourished: but could only present non-dramatic entertainments, such as mime, pantomime.
In the 19thC the iconic French Pierrot was displaced by an invasion of English clowns: the knock-about Pierrot style of the Hanlon-Lees and the talking clowns such as Tony Grice and Billy Hayden.
Whiteface & Auguste
The myth of Tom Belling's origination of the Auguste role in the 1870s is widely doubted, but there was clearly a desire for a new low status clown to offset the dominant clever talking clown. The Auguste was seen as "of the people."
Birth of auguste heralded an era of great whiteface-auguste duos such as Footit and Chocolat, Antonet and Grock, Dario and Bario.
In 1864 the restrictions on drama in France were lifted, opening the way for an 80-year golden age of creativity and diversity in clown types and routines.
history repeating itself?
Roman "Stupidus"
Stan Laurel
"The psychological and cultural recovery of Paris after the Franco-Prussian War created the context for the arrival of the auguste clown" (Davison 88)
The Entree Clown
Modern Clowns
Circus Today
"Now the comedy of situation could be added to the comedy of gesture and attitude" (Remy 8).
Fratellini
Grock
Lou Jacobs
Chaplin
Charlie Rivel
Slava
Commedia dell'arte
Music Hall/Vaudeville
Minstrels/Jongleurs
Court Jesters/Theatrical Fools
Silent Movies
Physical Comedy and Clowning
Marx Brothers: Duck Soup (1933)
Chickys Clowns at Circus Knie (c.1988)
Illi + Olli at Circus Roncalli (c. 2009)
Broken Mirror
Max Linder: Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)
Full transcript