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Ritual Clowns

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Summary
In this work by Victor Masayesva, Jr., the tradition of clown figures in Native American ritual ceremonies is examined. Part collage-style work, part animation, and part documentary, "Ritual Clowns" opens and closes with a view of an ocean horizon. Images of animals and natural settings appear, and animated figures dart across the screen as narration and subtitles tell a sun myth. Following this, a narrator speaks about Native American beliefs on the interrelatedness of natural forces, and the evolution of a ritual song and ceremony incorporating clowns. At one point, images and sounds of violence and warfare overpower the speaker. A riot squad is shown, beating a crowd. This segues into a section of the work in which contemporary and archival film and photographs of native peoples' ritual ceremonies are accompanied by voiceovers that present the observations of anthropologists studying rituals, who reductively describe the ceremonies as ridiculous, immoral, and dirty. Footage of clowns in other contexts, including rodeo clowns and Chaplin footage, is incorporated. The narrator suggests that clowns exist partly to admonish and reflect back on people. They are associated with the concept of judgment day. Music is by the Harvest Festival Singers and was recorded at Bear Tracks Studio in New York City.
Topics
Animation, Indians of North America, Rites and ceremonies, Documentaries and factual works
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