Themroc -Claude Faraldo - Michel Piccoli, Beatrice Romand - France 1972
Viewed: 16mm print; Side Cinema Newcastle, 14 November 2004
Send on the Clowns
Its like Claude Faraldo has taken one horrified look at what’s going on in the world about him, and in time honoured tradition stuck two fingers in his mouth and sent out a shrill piercing sliding whistle summoning Michel Piccoli wearing full clown costume into the arena to save the day for the audience.
When in the course of a show in the big top disaster strikes the sexy trapeze artist off her bar, if the lions maul their virile tamer, if the big top catches fire or the four horsemen deal out death across the skies, the circus tradition is to send on the clowns. It’s an old ploy. Not just a divertissement but the realisation that the clown has something to give to the audience - clown -ness - that might guide them through a dire state of affairs. Clown-mode a state of mind where reality does not comprise of events to which you re-act. Rather reality is perceived as a flow of events with which you interact for the purpose of play. Clown-mode shows that with some situations playing with the energy is best means of the survival with awareness. At Armageddon in clown mode you will stay alert: in clown mode there is no blame, no personal responsibility for what is, no imperative to understand only the recourse to play. To play now. To play with and by pointing up all the forces in play by giving total attention to being. Play which involves the total exploration by all the senses of each passing moment attracted by clown consciousness. There is no intentionality in clown mode only existing at and for the moment.
From the opening sequence with its tacky title cards during which the only recognisable word in the whole film is pronounced - we hear the guttural emuncative enunciation “Themroc” (where does this word come from, does anyone know. It feels like the name of some cartoon character) we are at the circus where Piccoli clown takes over the show indifferently hostile to the increasingly exasperated and frustrated machinations of the ringmaster, the force of order, to control his behaviour. Picolli clown’s behavour can’t be controlled because this is the last show. This is all that remains to do. In the last act of the last house when everyone has turned into robots that pretend nothing is happening, who are unaware that we are sitting on the self destruct button, Piccoli clown puts on his red nose paints his face white and gets on with the business of clown. The naughty id- child in the man’s body with instinctive responses to the stimuli of the dying world - in particular those responses that are erectile.
Themroc is from camera to performance, becoming clown. In Themroc, Faraldo explores a line of retreat from the horror of the broken machine world and the self important gibberish of machine speak (Themroc should be required viewing for Radio 4 presenters). It is an actual film of exploration in itself. Everything in Themroc is on the screen: there is nothing hidden either content structure or form.
To see in Themroc anything other than what is on the screen is to miss the point. What Themroc is not, is, it is not a metaphor. Not a metaphor for anarchy or any political system state or philosophy. It is clown simple. It has no metaphoric content or meaning whatsoever, noting symbolic nothing allegorical. The becoming clown in Themroc is actual process of following a line of escape - visceral sensual indulging cruel and always extreme. This is clown. Putting on the red nose is real (try it) response to the world. Being clown is creating a new world of immanent desires immediately gratified. Piccoli clown is an escape but an escape that in itself leads nowhere. All Piccoli clown can do is to indicate to other people that there is a way out of experiencing the world as an automaton. It is a way out that doesn’t lead anywhere but is alert. Sometimes that’s all there is.
The rule of the clown is that like the animal he does not speak. Like the animal the clown points directly and acts immediately on (not reacts) stimulus. Piccoli clown completes the implied logic of Harpo clown. Where Harpo clown chases the sexy women Piccoli clown dives straight into their crotches and makes them laugh with his tongue; where Harpo clown closes his jaw round someone’s limb to bite then, Piccoli clown goes the whole hog into cannibalism eating the pompous self conceited bullying representatives of authority the policeman. Where Harpo reformulates and recastes the world by use of outrageous objects produced by delving into the voluminous wrap of his coat which envelopes him like a tent, Piccoli redefines the world according to clown rules by engaging in a primal act of architecture and remodeling his bolt hole. In an infectious orgy of destruction he smashes out the exterior walls of the apartment, rips out fittings and hurls away the furniture making a cave like platform from which Picolli clown can survey the world and wave to it.
And the camera loves Piccoli clown. The camera is his friend. It loves his face because the face of clown says everything there is to be said about clown. Beautifully mute poison words don’t fall form the lips of the clown . Clown doesn’t use his face to lie to deceive or mislead like those cheap actors. Clown is impeccable. You love the face of the clown for exactly what it is: truth without dissemblance; state of mind without ulterior motive. The face of the clown moves with him and sees and hears the world as he does. And the camera follows the face of the clown seeing and hearing the world as he does - experiencing world as clown consciousness.
Piccoli’s face and Faraldo’s camera move together turning the world upside down, exhilarated by acts of petty destruction and happy together in the rubble dust and smoke. I don’t think you could make such a film today, with camera and actor so complicity at the edge of vertical surfaces. Yet it is the complicit relationship of this bond that takes the film in clown mode experience, something rare in cinema.
Themroc is the last movie made in clown- mode. After 30 years it feels time for another film to put on the red nose and white make and explore the line of escape of the clown.
Adrin Neatrour 15 11 04