Taking a closer look at the roots and origins of things allows me to understand the world better. In New York I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon great opportunities to delve further into theatre and film history. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has a Silent Clown Film Series – for FREE – and I wandered in this weekend. There was a crowd of regulars – this impressed me and they were very welcoming.
In seeing the words ‘clown’ and ‘silent’ and ‘film’ I was curious because, thanks to my teachers, I’ve discovered that clowns can blast open a tragic moment, trait or aspect of a person or of life to reveal real vulnerability, to share it, and make it okay for others to laugh at it. The Silent Clown Film Series presented a few famous clown ‘stars’ from the early 1900’s (Toto, Paul Parrott, Will Rogers, Marie Mosquini, Arthur Stone, Clyde Cook etc…) within Hal Roach silent short films accompanied by live piano compositions courtesy of Ben Model.
Yes – but the reason why surprised me. I saw the value of the artist – the value of collaboration – I saw the value of humor – I saw that time is relative – I saw the value of an audience. I was one of the audience members taking a closer look at the origin of film and early film actors and filmmakers. There is one moment that I did not expect after a lot of silly moments that I did presume would occur in some form. It was one of those singular moments in your life where you’re presented with an image when you least expect it and can’t avoid considering its power. An image that is still relevant today – especially given our ability to glance back at history.
In the midst of a world war four soldiers walk into a tree (which fronts for a telephone in the battlefield). The opposition, ‘clowns’ featured in the film, escape some harm that backfires on the tree by fluke. The tree vanishes into thin air and four unharmed men scramble out of the roots and scatter off. The few millimeters of film begged a pause in my own reality and I considered the fact that physical conflict is one thing and communication/ knowledge can be larger things.
This really funny film, Somewhere is Somewhere, was made in a world that knew of World War I and was blasting its tragedy up to reveal the vulnerability people felt in it. It allowed the audience to make light of tragedy, loss, and mass physical conflict. Yet to make light just enough to face the relevance of what it was. Physical conflict rooted in world conflicts of communication and knowledge. On the flip side is peace – non-physical conflict – where communication occurs and knowledge of the roots of the conflict are understood. It was just a few millimeters of film, tucked away at the Library of Congress, brought to the public for free in the middle of many millimeters of laughter… and it inspired me.
It inspired me to laugh more, to be brave enough to ‘know’ more, to communicate more, to listen more, to use my knowledge and communication to build strength allowing me to seek peace more.
Artists have value. An old world’s ‘silent’ film’s relevance spoke in this new world because there are audiences who listen and who seek knowledge. I must admit I was having a bad day (my friends would find this amusing because I’m generally unusually content – especially when learning about film & theatre) but this film series really picked up what was a bad day. I’m carrying the experience with me because it made the work I seek to do as an actor, sometimes painter, maybe a singer, valuable – priceless – relevant. Being conscious of the effect of my future work on the world seems a very important thing to me now – no matter the scale.
The live piano accompaniment didn’t hurt!
“If you can’t do great things, do small things in a great way.” – Napoleon Hill