Sad Clown (2014) – By Levi Anderson

What do you do if your job is to make people laugh, but you can’t find joy for yourself?

The character of the sad clown is a well known one, and a common story of the character goes:

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A certain man made an appointment to see a doctor. He arrived and said to him, “Doctor, I always feel depressed. No matter what I do I still feel depressed. I just don’t know what to do.”

The doctor looked at him and said, “Come with me to the window.”

The man followed and then the doctor pointed outside and said, “Do you see that tent over there in the distance? Well, there is a circus in town and it is really good. There are lots of acts to watch, specially the clown acts. And there is one clown in particular who is extremely funny. He will make you rock with laughter over and over again. Go and see that clown and I guarantee that you will not have reason to be depressed again!”

The man turned to the doctor with sad eyes and said, “Doctor, I am that clown!”
——

The character has a long history, and has been attributed to many great performers, and inspired the likes of the Italian opera “Pagliacci” and the pantomime character of Peirrot in centuries-old improvisational theatre as early at the 1600s in Europe. I would argue that the recent 2015 Academy Award Winning Best Film, “Birdman” is again, just another take on this beloved story.

I recently watched Jason ’P. Schumacher’s short film, “Sad Clown”, a new 11-minute story featuring the tortured but treasured and timeless character. The film opens with a professional clown, putting on his makeup before a live show. The ringmaster enters and is alarmed, as this clown is not wearing a big red smile, but instead is in the process of painting on a frown and little blue teardrops. How can this be? With the show only moments from starting, what can be done to make this clown change his mood?

While in the traditional story of the clown and the doctor, we never know why the clown is depressed, but in “Sad Clown”, we learn the history… a jovial clown, once in love with a beautiful lady clown, has had his happiness whisked away by the whizz-bang flash of the circus magician… or should I say, illusionist?  And now, this poor clown has no joy left to share with the world.

But the show must go on! The ringmaster insists, the people demand it! The clown just doesn’t understand how important the show is… or is it the ringmaster who just doesn’t understand? The ringmaster, who has never shown any emotion, be it happiness or sadness? How can he demand of the clown what emotions to feel or to show, if the ringmaster himself doesn’t know how to feel emotions at all?

Jesse Franson as the Clown, Kelsey Eide as Etta, and Darrin Shaughnessy as the Ringmaster all performed brilliantly. Shaughnessy has a particular breakdown moment that excellently shows his range. Franson’s Clown, even at his happiest moments, still seems to be harboring a deep depression, as if he knows his love won’t last.

This short film is beautifully shot, with top-notch production design, costuming, makeup, lighting, and camerawork. The audience is pulled into the circus of old, of the 17th and 18th century traveling shows. It is intimately shot, with subtle metaphors and some brilliantly non-descript special effects, particularly with the magician character (or actually, as he is credited, Harlequin, the mischievous counter to Clown).

“Sad Clown” is a touching story, suitable for all ages.  

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