By MICHAEL PERKINS
ALL CLOWNS ARE COMMENTATORS. Their leering grins and forced chortles are a mock of the all-too-mortal constraints of life, reminders of the gloom that lurks just behind the performance curtain. They concoct artificial joy at a harsh cost to themselves. In this way, they suffer somewhat for all of our sins.
Upon discovering, a few years ago, this life mask of the late Robin Williams, which is on display at the Museum Of The Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, I was still in a mixture of mourning and denial at the Great One’s passing, all the sadder because the laughter he gave us exacted such a price from him. The mask itself was made to act as a framework for make-up artists who would then construct prosthetics on his features for a role. In turn, those features themselves became the role, the face reduced to its essence, strangely at rest after a life of inner turmoil. Seeing this image after several years of, frankly, not being able to bear to look upon it, I hear Lord Hamlet, who, upon discovering the skull of his father’s court jester at a burial site, muses:
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio:
A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy:
He hath borne me on his back a thousand times;
And now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!
My gorge rims at it.
Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.
Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs?
Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?
Not one now, to mock your own grinning? Quite chap-fallen?
Now get you to my lady’s chamber,
And tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come;
Make her laugh at that.