John Achorn, Producer:
Uncovering the life and teachings of my former mentor has been a fascinating journey – which I aim to share in this documentary. As all film-makers discover, their subject is a chimera reflected in people’s memories filled with conflicting perspectives. What emerges is this portrait of an American Brighella. Brighella is that character in the commedia who stands to one side and finds opportunity in the passing scene. Carlo’s character was Brighella, a mask he passed on to me as one of his many protégés.
I began this as a way of preserving his teaching. As I started interviews I quickly realized what he taught changed dramatically over the years. The idea of codifying his teachings became more and more elusive. The results of his influence on so many actors are where to find the coda of his work. He most admired Buffalo Bill, seeing in him an American icon – a person who actually was a frontiersman who then theatricalized and romanticized that personal history – he sold his past like Brighella might have, he re-invented the American West as Brighella liked to re-invent who he was to gain a foothold in society.
Carlo built his own legend around himself. He was a deep thinker, philosopher and artist. At the heart of this story is his inability to communicate much of this brilliance while still conveying the essence of the heart and soul of physical theatre to countless students. He could be abusive, charming, brilliant, abrasive, boorish and inspiring all in one sitting with the man!
I began this film in 1997, shooting some 24 hours of Beta footage of Carlo being interviewed about his personal life, the commedia dell’Arte and his philosophy of the same. This was shot at Next Step Studios in West Hollywood, California. Included in this footage were Carlo teaching a summer session in commedia at the Dell’Arte School in Blue Lake, California amidst the beauty of Humboldt County and Redwood Country. Interviews of students and residents of the town were also filmed at that time. Some super 8 footage B-roll was also shot. As I ran out of funds, filming ceased for a while. Unfortunately, Carlo passed away in 2000 in San Francisco from complications of leg surgery. Fortuitously however, in 2002, we were granted an interview with Marcel Marceau while his tour was in Los Angeles. This was a two-camera shoot, again on Beta. Funding subsequently once again dried up and my preoccupation with putting a daughter through school and providing an income put the project on hold for some 8+ years.
In 2011, with funding from my late mother’s estate, I picked up the project again. Much was spent on digitizing all remaining footage, purchasing a digital HD JVC camera and other video equipment and traveling to Italy, France and the Netherlands for new interviews. In the Fall of that year, further interviews were conducted in San Francisco and Seattle. These are all shot on digital chips and stored on terra-bite back-up drives.
Further interviews remain – some in Southern California, other major footage in New York City and Maine. A return trip to Rome, Switzerland and Paris are optional if the legendary Dario Fo gives his assent to an interview (as well as Dmitri the Clown and Mummenschantz).
All footage prior to 2011 needs upgrading to HD format. What remains after the interviews is the editing and packaging process to finish this film.
The New Vaudeville movement of the late 70s & 80s, as well as the interest in circus and clown as legitimate forms of American theatre, owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Carlo Mazzone-Clementi. Yet, he also burned many bridges along the way. His is a love-hate relationship whose greatest gift was the bringing of commedia dell’Arte to the States.
So here come Arlecchino, Colombina, Pantalone, Dottore, Pulcinella, the Lovers, the Capitano and so many more masked characters through the lens of the man behind the mask, Carlo Mazzone-Clementi!