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Clowns: The Week in Review

I’m a fan of short forms: the clerihew, the cartoon caption, the political tweet. As such, I enjoy reading the rating summaries that appear at the end of New York Times movie reviews. A. O. Scott, one of the paper’s chief film critics, has a grand time trying to undermine the form’s expectations. (The imperative, as always: Be interesting! And maybe funny.) Here are some recent examples of his work:

“Maggie’s Plan” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Discreet sex and intense academic jargon.

“Everybody Wants Some!!” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Dude!

“Knight of Cups” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). I don’t know, maybe they just didn’t feel like getting dressed.

This past weekend, Glenn Kenny reviewed Jon Watts’s “Clown.” Professional obligations notwithstanding, I won’t be seeing this movie. (Though I teach a class on clowns, I don’t much care for the scary-clown trope.) Kenny’s rating summary is a brief master-class in the use of the conjunction “because”:

“Clown” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) because it’s about a clown who murders and eats children and then regurgitates their bones.


In other clown news, Jerry Lewis’s unreleased 1972 film “The Day the Clown Cried” popped up (sort of, and only briefly) on Vimeo last week. This is a movie I would like to see; it’s often mentioned in discussions of all-time bad movies (or maybe just all-time bad movie ideas). The plot, briefly: A German circus clown, played by Lewis, winds up a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. He tries to entertain the children; he’s beaten and humiliated; everyone dies. New Yorker film critic Richard Brody saw footage from the film in 2013 and found it to be, contrary to its reputation, “profoundly moving.” But according to Lewis: “It was bad work. You’ll never see it and neither will anyone else.” Harry Shearer, who was able to watch a rough cut of the film in 1979, told Spy magazine:

But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence 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!”—that’s all you can say.

The glimpses that appeared on Vimeo were drawn in part from a German-language documentary about the making of the film. A 31-minute edit has been taken down and reposted several times in the past week; as of this writing, you can view it here. My rating summary:

“The Day the Clown Cried” is unrated, unloved, and (mostly) unwatched. To turn a Molly Ivins quip on its head, it probably sounds better in the dubbed German.

Lewis, Clown