CAPSULE: This documentary is the story of one man who wanted to be a clown, the circus he founded with his family as performers, and the larger family of all the performers in his show. Director Daniel Espeut's organization for the film is rather by the numbers, but he shows us a segment of society with a lifestyle we have rarely seen. Along the way he includes testimony of famous clowns on what is the art of the clown. The film is generally good-hearted, giving us a loyal family and a supportive group of performers. Only late in the film do we get a feel for some of the friction between circus members that has been going on all along. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
GREASEPAINT is the documentary of NoJoe's Clown Circus, a traveling circus that performs eleven months of the year and in that time will put on maybe 600 shows. The NoJoe has about six performers, three of whom are one family. The circus is really built around founder Joey Thurmond, who performs under the name NoJoe. The clown named Miss Jamie is really Joey's wife Jamie. Under the makeup Toot is really their son Tyler. The primary non-family member is Fluffy, really Hernan Colonia. Director Daniel Espeut chronicles the life on the road of the tiny NoJoe Circus.
The organization of the narrative is straightforward. We start with a biography of Joey Thurmond. Joey at nineteen was a professional wrestler when his back was broken. It was questionable whether he would walk again, but after recovery he became a rodeo rider and a policeman. While he was on the police force he supplemented his wages with stints being a clown until he decided that the police job was good steady work that he hated. He quit the force to become a full-time clown. He brought his life and later his son into the business with him and still later non-family performers. Joey has bet every cent he has on the circus. He has no pension, no life savings, no stocks. All his finances are on the line. If the circus fails he will have no money. Joey feels his dream is strong enough to inspire this whole family and runs them like a despot.
We move on to the clowns' semi-secret skill. What is the philosophy of "clownhood"? We are told what it is not. It is not just wearing grease paint and fooling around, but we are never told much of what it really is. There are specialized skills a clown needs to know. Some children, and even some adults, have a natural fear of clowns and some time is spent in the film on what is the best way for a clown to seem non-threatening for little children.
From there we look at some of the day-to-day drama of the business. Hernan is a fifth-generation circus performer, but he is an illegal immigrant and desperately in need of a green card that he cannot get. Espeut moves the cameras to what is circus life with the family on the road. Joey has prosaic problems like paying his performers. He gets bad checks. The rising price of gasoline alone could sink his tiny circus. And Joey is constantly revising and improving the show. Joey antagonizes his loved ones by always appearing to love his family second and the circus first. Is the circus dearer to him than his own family?
GREASEPAINT gives us a look behind the painted faces, the bright red noses, and the giant grins to see what the clowns are really thinking about. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. GREASEPAINT is on DVD and will be out on video on demand August 1, 2012.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2983602/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/greasepaint/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper