Quite possibly the holy grail of moviedom, 70’s drama film “The Day the Clown Cried” starring Jerry Lewis has never seen the light of day. And if Jerry likely has his way, these little snippets of footage from it that made their way onto YouTube will likely be yanked right back into oblivion.
The movie, which Lewis also directed, tells the story of a clown who performs for children in a Nazi death camp during World War II and allegedly ends with Lewis’ clown character entertaining the children all the way into the lethal gas showers — pretty gritty stuff. Lewis, who is embarrassed about the film and its subject matter, has suppressed the film successfully for decades, suing to keep it out of the public’s reach. But now a few snippets of footage from the film, along with some behind-the-scenes footage, has been discovered in a Dutch documentary company’s archives and been leaked online.
Admittedly, there is something shady and terrific about YouTube (and all online video aggregators really) for having the sort of accessibility and chutzpah to bring found footage like this into the mainstream. It’s forbidden fruit — stuff we’re not supposed to glimpse, and yet, because of some bold dreamer with a found can of B roll, we all get a little taste. Mostly this works in our favor, but there is an inherent danger to this sort of accessibility as well. New media hasn’t quite figured out our sacred cows from our spoiled meat. Sure we feel we have a right to any and all footage of anything ever filmed (and apparently all music as well), but at what point does the will of the creator factor into the conversation?
As for “The Day the Clown Cried,” there isn’t much here — some footage of Lewis in clown-face performing a few hammy gags, some stuff from him in the director’s chair, but the fact that we were never going to see anything from this, and now we have had a taste, is the stuff of legend. The dream is that Lewis will finally relent and let this film out into the public, but the reality is that he will likely sue to get this footage pulled right back offline. And film buffs will be left to claim they remember the summer of 2013, when a few brief moments of “The Day the Clown Cried” were leaked online. And their children will scoff indifferently and go right back to their hover scooters.