We have seen many opinions surfacing over the internet regarding comic book movies recently. From Martin Scorsese to Francis Ford Coppola to every single random Twitter user, there has been a wide debate over comic book movies and their significance in the cinema landscape. And that is why I set out to get an expert’s opinion on the matter and more significantly, an expert’s opinion on Joker and its significance in the clown community.
For those who have been living peacefully under a rock for the past few months, you may not know what Joker is. Joker was written by Scott Silver and directed by Todd Phillips, the film follows failed comedian Arthur Fleck who wears two masks: the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied, and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker. Joaquin Phoenix leads an impressive cast starring Zazie Beetz, Robert de Niro, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, and Leigh Gill (as well as a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from Justin Theroux).
My journey led me to Rich, who had been a clown for approximately 26 years before taking a new path in life. I had the chance to inquire his thoughts on the film and if anything he saw from Joker related to his real-life experiences as a clown.
“I was a clown for 26 years. It was not my primary job, but rather an avocation. I started in my teens as a sleight-of-hand magician doing corporate luncheons and parties. In college I became friends with a fellow student who was a clown and he convinced me I could get away with a lot more humor if I put on a face and nose. He was right and we ended performing together for a few years. He actually did join a circus out of college. I did not follow him, but continued to perform for children, adults, businesses, charities and as part of performing troupes into my mid 40s.
From what I’ve seen of the trailers the film captures none of the responses and reactions I personally experienced in my time as a clown. People were respectful and appreciative of my humor and performance. Although that could be because I was a 6-foot 7-inch tall clown named Tiny. I think the film happens to represent the Joker as someone misunderstood and marginalized by those around him and the clown aspect is just part of what marginalizes him even further.
From the trailer his performance is deeper and more faceted than I expected. The backstory explains how the beast was born and makes him a more tragic character. I do not think it makes clowns tragic characters though. The face and mask simply add to his mystery and his menace, but all the clowns I know and work with have had a spirit and a will to spread light and fun. The fact that his attempts to do so are mocked and attacked is what transforms his ambitions and desires.
I don’t think it represents anything about clowns and the clown industry. It’s more about how cruel we can be in treating those we don’t understand. I don’t think it will have any negative or positive impact on how the public views clowns in general. Film and TV tend to treat clowns as witless fops, with masks and makeup often used because they’re great at making people more grotesque or to hide their true persona or intentions. I think it’s an easy prop to rely on, and one which doesn’t seem integral in this case to Joaquin Phoenix’s excellent portrayal of someone society has shunted aside.”
Interestingly enough, Rich’s comments inform us of not how Joker affects the clown industry but instead how comic book movies can provide meaningful statements and debate on current topics in today’s world. Whether that is exploring society through Arthur Fleck or exploring responsibilities through Peter Parker, it shows how every comic book movie can provide a meaningful piece of information within ongoing conversations in various cultures. Maybe they are not just theme park films but instead, they are films in their own right but convey messages in different formats that what we typically see.