Thursday 19 December 2013

Those That Play Your Clowns (2013)

Director: John Broadhead
Star: Mike Ostroski
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
Those That Play Your Clowns couldn't be much further from El Western if it tried, even though it shares a 26 minute running time and suggests from its first moments that it's going to be funny. It does have a few cleverly funny moments, but it's no comedy, it's an increasingly serious drama that carries a strong punch. Mike Ostroski dominates as the lead character, George Hill, to the degree that it'll be a struggle to talk about anything except him, but he doesn't look like much as the film begins. He's a ragged man, one who struggles out of bed to make a 10.30am children's party, to which he manages to be late. He's apparently a pretty good clown, but we figure out before he even leaves his bedroom that he's really an actor who happens to play a clown pretty well, even if it wastes his talent and his degree in performing arts. He puts on the role of Pompey the clown along with the outfit and make up, but it's killing him, not only because paying the bills means he misses another audition for Hamlet.

Most tragic is that he knows that it's killing him but can't seem to find his way out of the rut. Talk about method: he's become a tragic character even as he dreams of playing the most famous of them all. The quality of the production is high; it may be a little long and we may see Hill wallow a little too much, but it grows strongly. Even as we wonder where it's going, why he's still in clown make up as he gets drunk at the bar where other actors wait to hear who was cast in Hamlet, we start to realise that, to Hill, there are no other actors. That extends to Ostroski, because every other character here is really there only to be a prop for him to work with. The moment where this becomes clear, almost exactly halfway in, turns out to be when he interrupts another actor, so proud of landing the role of Laertes that he recites lines for his friends, with a bellow of, 'You're doing it wrong!' Everything stops, to roll into the supreme irony that this drunken clown tells him, 'You're making a fool out of yourself.'

Ostroski is magnificent here. He's doesn't just play George Hill, he plays an actor, a thespian at that who has been King Lear four times, but an actor playing a clown. What's more, he's descended to the point where he's an actor playing a clown playing an actor, turning down roles that reflect what he's become and, in so doing, unwittingly distancing himself from the roles that he knows he deserves. And, in the end, as he realises it, he delivers his tour de force to what audience he has, while imagining that he's delivering it for real. The film's title comes from Hamlet, from the part that we hear Hill perform and it's highly appropriate for the story in which it sits. This is no Shakespearean adaptation, but it does bring the words of his play to life through characters he never wrote in settings he never created. It's a clever script, one that takes a couple of viewings to realise just how many layers it has. But in the meantime, letting Ostroski wash over you is hardly a bad way to spend half an hour before he exits stage left.

Those That Play Your Clowns is available to watch for free on YouTube.

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