The Triumph of Pierrot: The Commedia Dell'arte and the Modern Imagination

Martin Burgess Green, Author MacMillan Publishing Company $24.04 (297p) ISBN 978-0-02-545420-0
Why did modernists such as Picasso and Stravinsky ransack the commedia dell'arte, a lowbrow popular entertainment form of the 16th century, for images of harlequins, acrobats and clowns? While London music halls kept alive the commedia's rowdy spirit, 20th century painters, poets, composers and filmmakers drew on the medieval Italian spectacle for inspiration to challenge society's ""respectable'' values. Green (Children of the Sun and Swan, an Indiana librarian, track down images of Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin, or traces of their rebel spirit, in the antics of Chaplin and the Keystone Kops, in Garbo's screen persona, paintings by Rouault and Hockney, Evelyn Waugh's novels, films by Fellini and Bergman, and in Monty Python, The Rocky Horror Show and the ``impassive yet soulful Pierrot face'' of rock stars David Bowie and Juice Newton. Focusing primarily on the period from 1890 to 1930, this intriguing study shows that the commedia dell'arte's influence has been much greater than many people suspect. The authors frequently stretch the evidence, however; the ``blatant staginess'' of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari does not, as they argue, necessarily establish a link to ``commedia modernism.'' (May 12)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1986
Release date: 01/01/1986
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