To our good comrade:
Unfortunately, I’m beginning my first post with a small dedication to Vojtech Jasny, the Czech filmmaker whose versatility has left more than a few impressive films in his filmography. Born 1925 in Moravia, he was already 25 at the time he started making films in 1950, two years after the Communists came to power in Czechoslovakia. Charmingly, in the era of lack of visible truth, he created “The Cassandra Cat”. The 1963 film showed how something as silly as a cat who can reveal things like adultery can make children riot. And his finest came during that rebellion known as the Czech New Wave: “All My Good Compatriots”, a film that chronicles the changes a small village undergoes as the war ends and socialism enters in its place. Cheerful agrarian life turns into a culture of betrayal. I watched it twice this year. A longtime professor in the United States, Jasny has left imprints on so many. I thought it fitting to watch one of his films today, and I was not disappointed.
Ansichten eines Clowns (1976, West Germany).
For nearly 25 years, after leaving his home country, Jasny directed a number of films in Germany. One was West Germany’s 1976 submission to the Academy Awards, an adaptation of Heinrich Böll’s “The Clown”, as it’s known in English. Böll’s novel rattled 1963 Germany and brought the ire of the CDU for its negative portrayal of the Roman-Catholic church during and after the war; for its complacency and role in Nazism’s success, and its readiness to forget after the war. Böll, Günther Grass, and others formed a powerful wave of criticism, and many of their stories were adapted to film, most notably Jean Marie Straub’s “Not Reconciled”, after Böll’s novel “Billiards at Half Nine”, and Völker Schlöndorff’s “The Tin Drum”, after Grass’ novel of the same name. Jasny’s film precedes “The Tin Drum”.
Jasny seems to opt for a melancholic, close perspective of its clown-comedian-protagonist Hans Schnier, the voluntarily estranged son of a coal magnate family. Half of his German productions are made for TV, and this film doesn’t seem too far from that, but is more than successful in representing moments (“Augenblicke”) from Schnier’s life that are about love and pain. Helmut Griem is charming and infuriating as an immature comedian whose rudeness defies social conventions. Truly, I believe this approach is better than the cinematic-surreal nature of “The Tin Drum” and the static nature of “Not Reconciled”. To perform as someone with bounds of happiness, a clown must carry the right amount of melancholy to empathize.
The plot follows Schnier as he returns to his childhood home in Bonn after an unsuccessful run and subsequent injuries to ask his parents for money so he can recover. Arguments with his family are in-cut with memories of the end of the war. The most shocking one is the pride that caused his mother to send Schnier’s sister Henrietta to die on an anti-aircraft battalion. On the other hand, he reflects on his failed relationship with Marie Derkum, a Roman-Catholic woman whose love for Schnier fades when she realizes he has no interest in joining the faith. Schnier’s hate for the institution and hate for Germany’s readiness to forget the crimes committed during the war drives him into a corner: as a Clown, he’s no better than a beggar.
Jasny and Böll do well in incorporating the text into the film while also making it feel approachable. There’s a lot of push and pull in Griem’s performance. He’s sympathetic, but also incredibly pathetic. There’s nothing offensive here, really. No absurdity like in “The Tin Drum”. It’s melancholy, a cold society. All that Schnier has are moments, memories, sentiments. That’s what makes his role as a clown possible.
Jerry Lewis, Gore Vidal, and me…
It’s really tempting to know everything. I wasn’t feeling well yesterday so I watched a Norman Taurog-directed Jerry Lewis film called “A Visit To A Small Planet”. It’s not really one of his best, but it was cute. I was surprised to learn it was based off of a Gore Vidal play of the same name (and that Vidal hated it!). The play and the film don’t share endings, however. Jerry “gets” the girl, but only briefly, as his rival chases him back out to space. The play ends with the alien nearly starting a war on Earth for fun, a comment on proxy wars. It made me realize maybe Vidal wouldn’t be a bad author to read into: he wrote “Ben-Hur”, “Suddenly, Last Summer”, and more. You can tell I’m mostly interested in the queer content of those films. Who can blame me?
And me? I start my new position at my company in a couple weeks. I feel lost! How come I always feel lost when things become stable?