Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Day The Clown Cried

It occurs to me, I never was much of a book person. I read constantly, mind, but I think I've always preferred the conversational tone of articles, interviews and the like to the plots and staged dialogue if fiction. Prose is expected to progress in a logical, and therefore predictable fashion, which betrays artifice since life is plainly messy and as prone to violent digression as painfully obvious delibertation and action. If nothing else, nonfiction is at least earnest, and since it reflects true occurances, can often broadside you without the need for an elaborate set-up to telegraph the action.

Where am I going with all of this? The Holocaust, of course! Much drama has been derived from the years in which that inhuman travesty took place, both in the retelling of personal accounts and the dramatizations sprung from the screenwriters mind, and both revisted so often as to make the end goal to seemingly tell every single story of anyone who ever breathed the same air as a camp occupant. I've heard my fair share, and quite possibly an excess, of these tales. However, I'd long forgotten one of my first exposures until an article at CHUD.com jogged my memory. As a child I often read books about movies, as noted by my predilections above, and the image of Jerry Lewis in full clown make-up in a concentration camp is one to carry to your grave even from that early exposure.

In 1972, Jerry Lewis was convinced to star in a film about a self-centered circus clown who is sent to prison after a drunken and unkind impersonation of Hitler attracts the wrong kind of attention. Through a series of contrivances familiar to fans of Lewis' work, Christian "Helmut Doork*" would find himself in Auschwitz. There he would come to love and entertain the Juden children, until finally leading them and himself into the gas chamber like a Pied Piper. As you might imagine, many considered this concept more of an abomination than an adherence to the principle of never forgetting, while others think it really puts the "camp" in "Nazi death camp." Sadly for the latter, the production fell victim to one upheaval after another, a combination of Terry Gilliam trials and Uwe Boll execution. Thirty-five years later, the film remains as only an unreleased rough cut and a legendary testament to misguided hubris. Surely, the story of it's creation and the surrounded mystique are more interesting than the actual film, and you'll have an opportunity to consider the matter further at Clownspy. Reprinted there is an old article from Spy Magazine regarding the work and the few people who've born witness to it's crapulence. Outstanding illustrations by Drew Friedman really drive the point home, as Harry Shearer notes, "seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presense of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. 'Oh My God!' - thats all you can say."

*Maybe Jerry, who altered the screenplay's "Karl Schmidt" into this silly appellation, remembered the comic gold Groucho Marx mined by noting that "Peter O'Toole" was a duophallic name?

No comments:


Blog Archive


Surrender The Pink?
All books, titles, characters, character names, slogans, logos, and related indicia are trademarks and/or copyright of their respective rights holders.