The American film critic and theoretician, Bill Nichols, once said that non-fiction stories could be about almost anything. They don't need to be about big important topics to be big, important stories. The filmmaker's curiosity is often the most vital indicator of a successful film. Shane O'Neill, an experienced writer and director, undertakes the task of shedding some light on a professional clown's fascinating world.
Clown is a 10-minute, heartwarming, and stylised documentary that uses animation and dramatisation elements to create a unique depiction of one of the most misunderstood and stereotyped professions. The film follows Mattie the Clown, an entertainer on the verge of retirement, who reflects on his journey and nearly 47 years on the clown scene. It opens with a series of close-ups, including Mattie putting on his clown attire. This creative decision invites the audience to concentrate on Mattie and view the world through the prism of his heavily made-up face. It also sets up the film's tone by creating a more intimate portrayal of the clowning community's world.
Non-fiction filmmakers often rely on animation and dramatisation to fill in the gaps of archival materials and to tell compelling stories. It is a technique that has been adopted with a varying degree of success. It can be easily overdone and, as a result, take away from the overall impression of the film. However, Shane O'Neill does it with phenomenal mastery. It is especially apparent in the scene in which analogue photography is paired with 2D-animation, emphasising the relationship between the past and present whilst depicting Mattie's journey. What's more, the story is complemented by clever editing (evident in the sandwich-making sequence) and music, which perfectly reinforces the film's tone. In Clown, nothing is superfluous. Shane O'Neill's experience and craft shine through each component of the film.
It is generally accepted that the fundamental purpose of a documentary is to inform and educate. However, Clown also challenges its audience's outlook by portraying a person who is unapologetically true to himself and refuses to conform to social norms, proving that being funny is, indeed, a serious business.