A poet of movement: For Pierre Etaix

A clown is a poet in action. He is the story which he enacts. The clown teaches us to laugh at ourselves. Joy is like a river: it flows ceaselessly. It seems to me that this is the message which the clown is trying to convey to us, that we should participate through the ceaseless flow and movement, that we should not stop to reflect, compare, analyze, possess, but flow on and through, endlessly, like music. This is the gift of surrender, and the clown makes it symbolically.

Henry Miller,  The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder

Pierre Etaix was filmmaker, actor, screenwriter and playwright, caricaturist and painter, magician … and the list is short.  He was however above all a clown, a poet of movement who would play and present his own fragilities so as to surpass them.  The joyful flow of life is restrained, re-directed, blocked by presumptions of seriousness that control, that render us fearful and violent.  The serious demands duty and responsability, it demands fidelity to norms.  In sum, it is nothing more than a set of demands, the demands of power; a judicial and moralising imaginary that bears little resemblance to an ethics of happiness.

The clown by contrast gives, gives without demands of return.  “Humility is the most important thing when one wants to create: one may be proud of creation, of the act of creating, but never with regard to one’s own creation.” (Causeur 14/08/2016)  The clown, instead of an overman beyond good and evil, is an underman who acts before the distinction; who through gesture and movement, places us before our own follies, invites us to laugh profanely at them, unmasking them, freeing us from them without judgement.

If the art of the clown and the circus which is its home is a kind of visual poetry, for Etaix, in addition, to be “a clown is a state, not a function … The great clowns … think clown, act clown, live clown”. (Le Monde 16-17/10/2016)  As an art essentially of movement, it is its own light; that is, it “speaks” of nothing but itself.  But in so doing, it “testifies” to worlds beyond itself through an emotional immediacy that allows all who witness it to see as well.  And thus we come to laugh at ourselves and our foolish worlds; we become, even if only fleetingly, clowns.

As a hesitant filmmaker, Etaix laboured in the tradition of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.  He was student and collaborator of Jacques Tati, friend and creator with Jean-Claude Carrière, and like a humble clown, curious, passionately curious to learn from Federico Fellini, Jerry Lewis and so many others.

Behind the films though, there would always remain the circus, the burlesque music hall, life as carnival.

Pierre Etaix died on the 14th of Octuber, at the age of 87.  On the occasion, we modestly share some film, so that we may continue to laugh together …

Shorts:

Rupture (1961) …

Heureux anniversaire (1962) …

En pleine forme  (1965/1971) …

Feature length films:

From Le soupirant (1962) …

Yoyo (1965), perhaps Etaix’s master film work, is sadly unavailable on any open source.

From Tant qu’on a la santé (1966) …

… and so much more …

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