Étaix - 2013 06 14 - Yoyo


French 1965
Dir. Pierre Étaix
Running Time: 97m

The infamy and intrigue generated by THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED far outmatches the number of times it’s been seen. Unreleased since its 1972 production, this Jerry Lewis helmed comedy sees an insolent, Nazi-era circus clown locked up for publicly mocking Adolf Hitler in a bar. The film is notable not only for its barmy premise but for bringing Pierre Étaix (who played Gustav the Great) and Jerry Lewis into the same picture.

Lewis first met Étaix on a trip to Paris. After seeing tonight’s film, YOYO, Lewis purportedly said of Étaix, “The man’s a genius!” According to French critic and chronicler Robert Benayoun, their real life meeting was a work of silent comedy brilliance. Lewis spoke no French and Étaix spoke no English. At first sight the two began miming scenes from the other’s oeuvre. Lewis cribbed Étaix’ strip-tease from YOYO. Étaix reenacted a scene from Lewis’ THE LADIES MAN (1961). It was the richest and most moving of silent dialogues, according to Benayoun. To the ranks of universal languages – love, music, math – we gleefully add physical comedy.

Lewis later said, “In France, you have someone named Pierre Étaix, who for me is cinema in its purest sense. This little man is a giant; the French would do well to appreciate him right now, before waiting till he’s dead. This discouragement might force him out of the business, which would be a catastrophe for the art of comedy in general!” A fine endorsement from one of France’s most ubiquitously adored comics.

YOYO is silly, sophisticated and sad. It reaches into surrealist territory for its unexpected gags. Watch for the Daliesque melting alarm clock. The final image of YOYO seems inspired by the fledgling MGM studio picture HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (Sjöstrom, 1924). You might also spot nods to THE GREAT DICTATOR (Chaplin 1940), LA STRADA (Fellini 1954), TO BE OR NOT TO BE (Lubitsch 1942) and SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (Sturges 1941). Then there’s Étaix’ nigh-Buñuelian fixation on feet. Jean Paillaud’s looping score seems to echo the circumambulatory structure of Étaix’ second and possibly best feature.

14 June 2013