Monday, November 24, 2014

Nik Wallenda's Dangerous Addiction, I Won't Be Looking ... A Silence Surrounding the Providence Aerial Tragedy Inquiry, and WHY?

Continuing from Saturday, as I was about to say, before a creepy clown in my window interrupted my circus train of thought:

I’m looking through the stack.  Took another peak at the CFA website, only to find no followup from them on the Ringling Providence aerial disaster, a few months back, Feld having been found responsible for mal-rigging the prop. .... I wonder if the CFA does not feel a moral responsibility to take reasoned positions on issues of major import and national coverage that affect the circus scene?   No, they just say, “we fight anything that fights the circus,” but what if the circus fights itself?

And what about Circus Report?  No mention so far of the damming Providence investigation. Perhaps a piece is in the works.  I can't imagine Don Marcks, who founded CR, not picking up and going with this national report.  It's the stuff that gives a pulsing relevance to such publications.  Those of us on Don Covington's e-mailing list (bloggers, magazine editors, vetted clowns, etc.) are lucky to receive what cyber courier Don finds out there and sends our way..  A past president of the CFA, Don evidently has no problem facing the hard truth of journalism. 

End Ringers: Cole hitting the barn early, having nixed a few last Fla dates, reports pointing to “financial” reasons.  That’s a strange one ... Nik Wallenda’s seemingly insatiable drive to keep walking higher and  higher, taking greater risks, and for what?  I genuinely fear he may be harboring a death wish; either that, or has addicted himself on the crowd’s adoring clamor and the blaze of cameras obsessing over his every move ...  Nik, it’s time to come down! 

TV tickler:   From a cartoon, Rhymes with Orange, woman watching a dorky celeb cook onTV, bubble reading, “Thanks again for tuning in to the cooking show ... Coming next, the Dishwashing Show!” LOL, I remember back in junior high working an automatic run-through dishwashing machine and loving the job’s hot steamy action .... Talk about steamy, here’s  a kinky PBS Canadian talk show star,  Jan Ghomeshi, getting fired for  charges of having gone too too far with his female partners in into S&M, he being the desperate dominator.  Oh, those PBS icons of advanced human behavior ... I just hope this character stays away from clowning as a career makeover.

For those who take the silly profession seriously, Cry, clown, cry.  And, when you wipe your tears away, start showing a little less paint, a little more facial flesh.  Or wear a badge that reads “Certified Jester, Registered, Bonded, Insured, CIA Vetted, every move electronically tracked.”

Or go back to washing dishes.  And become a celebrity dish washer.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Morning. Out of the Past: RECIPE FOR REVIVAL -- Tough Love for Troubled Big Tops ...

This first appeared on February 15, 2009

From Showbiz David to Beleaguered Circus Owners

I feel your pain, even if you don’t. I would like to see you succeed, even if you believe you already are. Even if you refuse to be traumatized by the thousands of empty seats you fail to fill. And so, risking a class action lawsuit for subjecting you beyond your will to my forced advice, you are hereby enrolled in my (drum roll, please!) ...


1. IT’S THE SHOW STUPID! No matter the venue, crowd-wowing showmanship is built on time-tested elements — swiftly paced action, smooth transitions, contrasting moods, music, lights, costumes -- all tautly shaped between sudden decisive openings (as opposed to haphazard pre-show ceremonial nonsense) and big flashy finishes. Bottom line: everything that goes on in and around your single or half ring either adds to or subtracts from the flow of action. REPEAT AND MEMORIZE: EITHER ADDS TO OR SUBTRACTS FROM THE FLOW OF ACTION. Anything that does not (to be addressed next) must go, and go NOW. We in the audience are not impressed. We see through your desperate veiled appeals for money. We do not welcome their disrupting the seductive sawdust spell you sometimes cast over us.

2. OUT, DAMN CONCESSIONS! Are you a circus or a concessionaire on the skids with a backlog of cotton candy to blow up before you blow out? If you still harbor a secret desire to be the next Royal American Carnival, I’d suggest moving your coloring book spiels, your photo ops and various rides along right now, out of the tent and onto the midway where they belong. And the moment I hear one more idiotically intrusive Peanut Peterson pitch DURING ANY PART OF YOUR PERFORMANCE, I swear, no matter the hour, no matter the place, I am getting up out of my seat with megaphone in hand, placing it up to my frothing mouth and shouting “I've heard that fifty thousand times already and I’m not gonna be pitched it anymore!”

3. CONFINE YOUR RING TO THE PERFORMANCE ONLY Money changers, out of the tent! Why? Okay, let’s think this through. A good performance creates and sustains audience engagement. Think of watching a movie in a theatre that every 10 or 20 minutes is shut down while some hack tries selling you on having a pet boa constrictor wrapped around your neck during intermission while a priest gives you last rites and your photo is taken. How might you feel, huh? Clutter your show up with junk and your audience leaves subliminally irritated by everything that got in the way of why they went there in the first place. Have I made my point yet??? They paid to see a performance, not to watch Shopping Channel Goes to the Circus. If you still don’t get it, I’d suggest simply getting out of the business.

4. RETIRE ALL "GUEST ARTISTS" TO THEIR SEATS, WHERE THEY BELONG I do not pay to see customers perform. Give them a good five years off, during which time you will relearn the art of hiring sufficient acts to entertain in lieu of filling up dead space with audience dead heads. I have yet to see a member of the paying public become part of the show in any other venue, be it a rock concert, ballet, stage show, rodeo, or public hanging. And please, will somebody tell the Shriners that we can no longer risk incalculable damage to whatever is left of clowning in American by their unwelcome holidays in greasepaint.

5. REMEMBER ATMOSPHERE? How about restoring a little, such as (and you know who you are) spreading a little sawdust or pink spray paint where the ring used to be. Or at least taking a crash course from any one of the two thousand co-founders of Cirque du Soleil who are standing by this very moment, ready to French up your operation.

6. POPCORN BY THE TON Give us a bloody break! Give us the half-ton box at half the price. You lure the public in with generally humane ticket pricing options. And then you ensnare them in your calculating concession pits, draining them of every last cent you can. I sat behind a poor woman at a small very under performing circus with her son, who kept raising the subject of popcorn. She told him she'd pop some when they got home. They did not return after intermission. Really, what do you accomplish by making it so difficult for adults with children to survive circus day? Why not a Dollar Matinee or two at the concession booth during each stand? Jack up the VIP night show prices, if you must, for rich Wall Street survival geniuses wishing to flaunt their stolen wealth in high American fashion.

7. ORGANIZE A UNIFIED MUSICAL SCORE If you can’t afford a live band (and by "live band," I am not talking accordion and/or bongo player), at least assign a real person to assemble a recorded score that is more than a juke box randomly stocked with the CDS handed you by your arriving acts.

8. PACING, PACING, PACING Remember when acts flew by? When, after one ended, somehow, someway, the next was actually somewhere inside the tent, maybe already in or over the ring performing? Return to the one-act format and concentrate your assets into a tighter, more memorable one-two wallop. Know what? If you thrill a few people, they might go out and talk up your show, and that might pull in more people to the next one. It’s called “word of mouth.”

9. OFFER A PIECE OF PAPER LISTING THE ACTS -— if that’s all you can afford. Remember the program magazines you once sold? The demise of these expected items which are still offered in virtually every other avenue of live entertainment is a tell tale sign of a big top being wheel-barrowed down the road on cherry pie life support. If you can’t hand out at least a one page flier listing the names of your performers, I’d say it’s time to consider a career change; check out some self-help gurus on PBS (Pledge Break Society) for re-birthing advice.

10. IF IT'S SOMETHING MY NEIGHBOR CAN DO, I DON'T WANT TO SEE IT IN YOUR CIRCUS I do not pay to see marbles or kick the ball, doing the daisy chain or hula hoop sleepover, thank you. Unless you can engage that true rarity -- the artist who makes me forget I'm actually watching a hula hoop act -- bring back pin the donkey.

11. RINGMASTER, HOLD YOUR TONGUE I know at least one who can’t stop talking. An immediate gag order on every gasbag announcer who thinks he or she is the real show. He or she is not. These vocal hosts should be heard briefly, and should not themselves become the show unless they have valid acts to offer. "Are you enjoying the show so far, folks?" is not a valid act.

12. IT'S NOT THE STORY, STUPID! You are not the Royal Shakespeare Company over sawdust staging Six Characters in Search of a Producing Clown. No matter what you believe, modern-day "story telling" under a tent is nothing more than big top broccoli designed to give snobs the satisfaction of having endured a quasi Cirque du Soleil out-of-body experience. If you can't resist, then tell your “story” in brief fleeting moments, so that it passes quickly enough to satisfy theatre types without in any way impeding the flow of CIRCUS action. In other words, it should have the tantalizing brevity of an old fashioned American clown walkaround. Leave’em wanting more, not less.

And on that note, I'm leaving. There's a man out there who wants to see me about ad rates. Anybody heard of Dixiana Peanuts?


Saturday, November 22, 2014

I’m Going to the Circus, Out West, With Grandma ... Wondering Why Cole closed early? ... Steaming Inside, Still, over Big Apple’s Big Screen Fiasco (Assumed) ... Laughing About New World Clowning Creep Outs ...

Okay, you there, all seven of you?  Ready .... Set .... GO!

Where was I?  Forgot already.  Oh yeah, while wondering when Ringling did the annual TV highlights thing, after first doing it in 1955 (anybody alive back then?), I surfed into Tim Tegge's Circus Video store, to find that he is offering the 1961 and 1965 editions of the same format, which I ordered.  This, in preparation for something on and around Big Apple Circus’s recent rather stillborn visit to movie houses nation-wide, apparently streaming dead.  Did anybody out there see it?  Based on my knowledge of the action in three theatres, a total of eleven people came to watch Metamorphosis.  And five of them returned after intermission. Do any of you respect hard facts? There they are.

So, that’s the making of a roast post, upcoming sometime.  You see, it’s not about my having fun hyping so ineptly handled a great opportunity for national exposure (BAC hardly half filled the tent in which it streamed — or strangled itself); it’s because I am a fan of Big Apple Circus, pardon me, and I want to see them succeed.  They seem to have a way of self-destructing when cameras roll; their visit to PBS has not, to my knowledge, ever been rerun .  Had the Movie house streaming been better attended, had the show itself had a stronger pulse, that would have been all to the better for Paul Binder’s residual crowd, said to have been struggling for some time to make ends meet, and maybe even close to an economic abyss.  Okay, enough.

Whilst surfing the titles that tanbark Tim offers (I am paying for mine, just for the record, in case you think I'm spinning), there was Grandma going west, full BAC show. I’m getting that one too!  I need reason to re-convert to Gotham's own circus.

What else lies here before me, next to my PC?  A big laugh from Circus Report’s Chuck Burnes, he saving  an otherwise rather fallow issue (a cloudy parade of tributes to the recently departed that gives it a funeral feel), Chuck, in a tone of levity, talks up the eerie emergence of a new generation of funny felons, AKA: scare clowns.  A fourteen year old kid in Bakersfield (Ca) donned mayhem makeup and scarred a little child beyond amusement.  Seems to be the craze, these dayz, to go dark on big top buffoonery, thus further setting back the plight of traditional rib ticklers.   Gosh, it’s not enough for the star animals getting run off the lot by the do gooders, but now, are the jesters next? ...

Burnes, you’re on fire:  “If the movies It and Killer Clowns from Outer Space [I know some from inner space] gave you the heebie jeebies ... there’s now another reason to be scared of clowns.” That would be the younger set running amok in gory greasepaint.  Freaky trend spreading, just another gift of Social Media., thank you Disgrace Book.   Chuck, himself once a clown, seems to be having a little too much fun reporting on these funny felons.  The only good that may come out of it, I’m thinking darkly, is somehow, somewhere, someway, the END to Shrine clowns.  I’d almost welcome being creeped out, safely, over being bored by the former.  Burnes writes of these insidious new funny faces, “wielding machete, and baseball bats” And I won’t take that into a far more disturbing realm, if you know what I’m thinking.  Ah, yes, the latest proof negative of American exceptionalism, right?  Okay, I can feel your mounting unease.

Onward to where? ... To be continued on Monday. I just saw a creepy face outside my window. Gotta call the Funny Felon Hotline.  Somebody, save me! 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Flashes: Circus Blogs on the Wane, and Why? ... Circus Report on the Rise: Ueckert Shows How to Review More Honestly - and Still be Kind ... And More!

  Logan Jacot
In no particular order, here ... we ...  go!

Where have all the circus bloggers gone?  Well, there never were many, but, take a look at those I've listed to your right, and wonder, with me, why so few?    Even the regulars only now and then put something out.  I've removed a few either gone (the late great Dick Dykes, Balloon Man) or dormant (Wade Burck's No Spin Zone).

Curious about other showbiz sectors, I found a list of 500 movie blogs, and there are doubtlessly more.  There are dozens of theatre and Broadway blogs.  Pop music and TV may produce even more. So, why only a dozen or a half under our littler big tops?   My best answer is this:  Circus fans and pros in this country shun taking positions -- other than, I suppose, hiding out behind cowardly Anonymous. Thus, we end up with streams of pretty pictures, and all that Those-Were-The-Gold-Old days stuff.   Nobody wants to offend anybody.   Nobody dares risking a view.  Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part, the American circus community (and this may go for the world) has long ago locked its lips in public.  You just don't criticize a circus or a performer.  No, no!

So, okay, let's bring on a better act.  Refreshing it is to be offered by Circus Report's Herbert B. Ueckert  real circus reviews, meaning, he tells us what he liked and what he didn't like.  And in so doing, however small a step this is, count it a giant leap for authentic circus reviewing, of which by tradition we see almost none.  (Perhaps Ueckert's reports are picked up by the White Tops, I don't know.)

A few excerpts from Uekcetr's review of Sahib Shrine Circus, and, to be clear, he found a lot about the show to like.  I am focusing more on his quibbles, to prove my case in praise of Circus Report's appearing to break a tad free of a moldy traditionFor starters, Ueckert takes Shrine clowning to task:  "Even [Joseph] Bauer's running patter could not save this skit!  ... Shrine clowns were back (ugh!) in another painfully pitiful skit" ..

Elan Espana

Other examples:  "Tattoos on performers do not enhance appearance but instead detract ... a highlight was the one-paw stand by the Fox Terrier ... leaps over fire hurdles concluded this great act."  On Diablo juggling from Elan Espana:  "Watch for this amazing and talented young man!"  On Jennifer Herriott Walker's mixed liberty animal review:  "The act still appeared to be a little rough around the edges."  And finally, lamenting the demise of Shrine circuses that once contained "glorious productions," elephants and cats and "professional clowns," Ueckert concludes, "Temples need to do some serious soul searching if they wish to come up with winning shows." Ooooo, I said to myself. 

This sort of a review is far more interesting to read, and far more informative. It thrives in virtually all other showbiz venues.  Maybe there is a tie-in between my two lead topics? Pretty pictures are nice; I enjoy them, too.  A few thoughts now and then, aired freely, might even be better. CR publisher and editor Bill Biggerstaff and contributing writer Herb Ueckert are showing a middle ground, both discriminating and supportive, that others may feel more safe and confident following.  Big top bravos to that! ...

Logan with his two-boddied frog, among the Barnumesque curiosities at Mr. Marvel's Wondertorium  Great name!  Photos, Baraboo News Republic.

End Ringers:  About circus bloggers, I wondered about a young fellow,a while back blogging for a bit, named Logan Jacot, to find that he is now centered, or was, in Baraboo, there presenting last summer Mr. Marvel’s Wondertorium at the Al Ringling Mansion.  Logan performs contortion and fire eating, among other side-showish amusements.  He loves side show culture, giving off a little of the old intriguing P.T. Barnum spirit..  For a time, Logan traveled with Lewis & Clark, and then helped manage a Ringling train. ... The CFA's website does updates on ongoing stories, but I can't find a whisper about Feld Entertainment having been found to blame for the rigging collapse in Providence.  Lip locked on that one, too, CFA? ... Where are we?  Okay, new paragraph!

Look, to support the circus is wonderful and all, but do you give an automatic pass to major management blunders?  Which makes me wonder if the Felds hand out corporate grants to various circus entities; if they were able to charm (what a wimpy euphemism!) Variety into rewriteing  John Ringling North half-way out of history, well, how much easier elsewhere?  ... Circus World Museum reporting a one percent drop in business for the season just wrapped ... Anybody see the Big Apple Circus on your local big screen?  Between my brother and his wife,  fan J. Kurt Spence in PA, and my own trip to the cinema, total attendance, before intermission, for the three lonely venues:  ELEVEN. After intermission, EIGHT.

Off the Lot, Across the Street:   I'm bummed out that Mayor Jean Quan did not get reelected here in Oakland, she has done so much, such as bringing in Police wiz William Bratton for advice, which enraged many PC locals -- the woman who beat her has vowed to take a more "holistic" approach to crime, and this when the murder rate is down by 30% ... It takes the New York Times and Bloomberg to go beyond a tired old story about Oakland being the armpit of the Bay Area to discover all the great things happening here. A couple of years back, the Times likened crusty creative Oakland to the "Brooklyn" of the Bay Area.  I'll take that, and, oh, there's my bus.  Give me a call next week, about the, what was it?  Tell me when you call!  See you! ...

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Big Apple Circus Lays an Egg on the Big Screen, I Fear

 Update, 11/9:  This is not a review of the show, although I had hoped it would be.  I continue to believe, based upon my experience watching a tape-delay of the live performance, that it is a very tricky matter trying to review a circus in any other way than actually seeing it in person, most importantly from a fixed position.    I had hoped to feel differently, but I do not.   To its credit, the show is drawing great reviews from the New York critics. I can only hope these will translate into crowds far larger than the one on view during this particular show.


Back from a modern movie house, the seats spacious and comfy, the decor fine.  Back from watching, as it felt to me (I hate to say this) Big Apple lay an egg in hundreds of movie houses coast to coast, into which its Saturday afternoon performance was streamed live.  On the West Coast, it was tape delayed.

First part of the show felt stillborn, even the opening charivari was woefully anemic.  Talky Talky.  When will circuses learn that audiences do not really want to be treated like children being told bed time stories or taught how to be this or that?  They want to be wowed.

Even the music, oftentimes a major asset at the Big Apple Circus, here seemed decimated, perhaps just an ineffectual score – or maybe a sound system that did not carry well in theatres.

Lots of audience participation,  and here is where, I hate to say this, we may be seeing a downside to artistic director Guillaume  Dufresnoy's ultimate vision for the show.  When he was appointed, I feared he  might give into his French side and follow more precious Cirque trends, narrative interludes, ultra silly clowning as only the French can get away with, elsewhere. Evidence of that abounds at Metamorphosis. 

I don’t like writing this first draft, which may well be what I will post.  I was shocked at how many seats in that tent, rows and rows of them, were empty, silent, dead.  And in New York, of all places.  Shocked that the company would not have stuffed the tent with shills – give the show away, if you have to in order to create the ideal picture, no?  I saw the usual concentration of kiddies and parents, and very few adults in singles or couples.  And then this sobering item came to mind:

A while back, on this blog, Paul Binder himself left a comment, related to my excitement about the show going into movie houses, Paul sharing a wistful hope that licensing royalties due BAC from  the venture might stave off the end of the road.  His tone sounded dire. All those empty seats.  All that dead space between a handful of very good acts. And I no longer feel certain about the show's future, not if they can't do better than this.  And that makes me genuinely sad.

I’d hate to see that happen, what Paul implied.  This latest looks a bit threadbare.  They have cast ringmaster John Kennedy Kane (too many unflattering closeups of the man) as the magician-in-chief, and handed him way too much dialogue; the program lacks any semblance of dynamic direction, with an air of wandering aimlessly about in the dark from one item to the next.  We are in the hands of people who have talked themselves into believing that something more intimate (say, like kids being entertained at school under the guise of magic and science demonstrations) will engage the audience in a new way.  When will the circus learn that Theatre is NOT its forte, never was, and never will be.

The clown, Francesco, was a  pre-show charmer, going through the seats and being silly.  That would have been okay, but no, he was far from done with us, and would return and all too soon wear out his welcome mat with more of the same.  Ho hum. All those empty seats left me wondering if the circus is merely suffering weak word-of-mouth?

Highlights that brought a little relief here and there: Fine work on risley, on rolla bolla, up there in the air, yes.   Again, I wonder whatever happened to Slowik's band?  Sounded like fewer musicians, augmented by pre-recorded music and/or a  mogue synthesizer (do they still make those?).  Slowik can put out a terrific sound. Not this time around, or, at least, not in this movie house.  Now, get ready for the Big Let Down:

Intermission came.  In the lush movie house room, seating capacity 230, there were a total of 8 customers, four adults and four kids. After intermission, only five remained. I vaguely recall a mother of two children being talked out of staying by one or both of them.

What were they thinking when they planned this show?  You can read, on  the post below,  J Kurt Spence telling us how much he loved what he saw (and I hope the others did, too, that I am wrong).  Kurt and I share one thing in common about this show -- we both saw it in ideally uncrowded circumstances.  Kurt says he was the ONLY person in the movie house. I feel some dry tears coming on.

I never felt authentically connected to the show, given constantly shifting camera angles moving my vision too frenetically this way or that.

Damage control.  I rather like the idea that not many people will have seen the Big Apple Circus in a so lackluster a shape.  Grandma, come back!

Francesco:  The charm wears thin well before the gig is up.  

Big Apple Circus Hits Movie Screens Nationwide in 9 Minutes

And I won't be watching. Out on the west coast, we are being forced to watch the show in tape-delay, at 12:30 PST.

LIVE it will not be.  I can only hope that movie house business and reception is good enough, so that this great new delivery system becomes an annual event, and then the powers that be will move the
filmed performance back, to say 2:30 EST, so that we out in the west, like others, can watch it LIVE.

So, I leave here later this morning for the movie house of my choice.

I'm still excited. Well, forcing myself to be.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

MIDWAY FLASH ... MIDWAY FLASH ... Ringling Blamed for Hair-Hanging Collapse in Providence ... Misuse of Rigging Caused “Catastrophic Failure”

OSHA’s investigation into the shocking collapse of a rigging in Providence, as reported by AP,  has concluded that Ringling riggers, “misused a key rigging component in a hair-hanging stunt, causing a fall that seriously injured eight acrobats, federal workplace safety regulators said Tuesday.”

The good news for Feld Entertainment, cited by OSHA for a “serious safety violation,” is that the company may only have to pay a proposed $7,000 fine.

The bad news: A looming PR disaster.  But likely Feld Entertainment will move its money and damage control masters into overdrive, and the whole thing may soon fizzle out.  However, several of the injured aerialists had earlier engaged a law firm to represent them in seeking damages (see the post below), and this could bring negative attention onto the circus. My guess is that the Felds will make every effort to settle out of court.

Already, Ringling’s PR operative Stephen Payne, Vice President of Corporate Communications, is disputing the finding.  Said he to AP reporters, “the clip was carrying a lower load than it was rated to hold.”

As reported by AP, quoting:

OSHA investigators said the company attached two rings to the bottom of the carabiner, rather than one, in violation of what it said was industry practice and of the manufacturer's instructions. Investigators said that caused the clip to be overloaded.**

Payne disputed that, saying the clip was carrying a lower load than it was rated to hold.

David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, called it a "catastrophic failure," and said it demonstrates the circus industry needs professional engineers to develop, evaluate and inspect the structures it uses in performances.

End of quoting.

** This strikes me as highly damaging evidence, it is so specific.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Nik Wallenda Crosses Chicago By Night, No Safety Devices, Part Way Blindfolded, Part Way Inclined -- Televised with a "10 Second Death Delay"

Here, quoting verbatim, from the first section  of a great story in today's Daily Beast, by Jacqui Goddard:


The heir to a tightrope walking family has tried some crazy stunts in his day. But his planned attempt to walk over Chicago on a slanted rope while blindfolded may be the craziest yet.
There isn’t a hint of intended irony in Nik Wallenda’s voice as he responds to That Question, the one thousands have asked him, the one he’s probably tired of addressing but entertains patiently, knowing that it is key to his reputation as King of the High Wire.

It’s the small matter of why he would rather risk death than wear a safety tether when he walks between skyscrapers 65 stories above the streets of the Windy City this Sunday, on an uphill high-wire three-quarters of an inch wide, at night, in near-freezing temperatures. Oh, and did we mention the blindfold?

“It’s nerve-wracking wearing a tether,” he shudders, in the way ordinary mortals shudder at the thought of him not wearing one. “The truth is, the dangers are real—I know; I’ve trained for them, I’ve prepared for them, and everything I do is calculated. I’m doing this because I love what I do. I know it’s hard for people to comprehend.”


Nik with his wife, Erendira, left, and sister Lijana

This is one of the best articles I have ever read on the symbolism of risk-taking by circus artists, rife with rich quotes from the Wallendas about how they view that symbolism and their work.

Link in a blink to read the complete story:

May the Gods of Circus be with Nik tonight.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

San Francisco in the Movies: More Wonderful Black and Whites

These from a 1952 noir flick, The Sniper, directed by Edward Dmytryk.  Not very good, except for  ex-con Eddie Miller, played sensitively by Arthur Fran\z, drawing rare sympathy (he did from me).  He's described as a psycho who is unable to connect with brunettes and, in retaliation, believes he must kill them all.  Besides Franz's superb acting, the evocative San Francisco settings make it a little worth watching.

There is something about San Francisco's hilly climbs and its dark asymmetrical streets that makes it, for my eyes, the ideal setting for film noir.   Drop me into a movie made in this town, and I will almost immediately know where I am.

Not sure why Los Angeles noir writers claim the City of Angels  to be THE perfect noir set.  Yes, by night, it has been deviously photographed to appear so glamorously sinister.  But for shadowy hills,  twisted streets, fog and mist, waterfront  ambiance and creepy old Victorian apartment houses, I don't think you can top San Francisco. 

I used to walk up those steps of Telegraph Hill, below, often.  I've told you I stopped walking across the city every week because I was nearly run over twice.   Amazing that, after all these years, I have finally considered that, unlike other great U.S. cities, New York and New Orleans, and Chicago,  San Francisco's hills truly make it unique.  Perhaps, that is the greatest tourist draw.  

Some of the hills are so steep, it feels like mountain climbing.

In my last San Francisco posting, I was telling you how the city was once a real town, with working class families, produce and industry, and shipping.  So much more gritty than now, which made it infinitely more interesting a place to walk.

The cable cars preserve the city's more authentic charm, except that they, too, so swamped with long lines of takers, come off looking like another Disneyland attraction.  Indeed, the city has become a theme park of itself.  And, yes, I should stop writing that same rant over and over.

They -- locals and movie makers -- ironically favor the Bay Bridge as background over world famous Golden Gate Bridge.

Really, the story struck me as rather flat and one dimensional. They make the guy out to be a dangerous sex criminal, but we never once seem him intimate with a single woman he pines for.  I wonder if they had massage parlors back then?

Going home to no where, in a hotel room. It's a city of loners, more than ever. Even the hotel rooms give off a distinctive worn down used-up end-of-the line San Francisco feel.  In the end, our serial killer leaves clues, wanting to be caught, wanting to be apprehended and protected from himself.

And in the end, Franz got me in some abstract amoral way.  I've never quite felt so sorry for a lethal predator.  

Off axis on dangerous land fill.  Experts warn that, despite all good measures taken to retrofit old buildings and hold newer ones accountable to  far stricter building codes, a big quake could reap catastrophic devastation on Noir City, North.  (L.A, you are South).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tito Gaona, Like a Kid, Says Goodbye to a Red Ring in Venice

Strange to note that its exposed frame looks so Art Concello, so aeronautic and really not of the big top at all.  So much like the sleek structure for a seat wagon ingeniously designed by Concello back in 1948.

 Tito's great dream failed to fly

Sorry to say as the curtain comes down, that the Venice Ringling arena never struck me as glamorous or "circusy."  No atmosphere. Too much Concello.  The setting holds greater meaning, me thinks, to performers like Tito Gaona than to fans like me.  Ringling would put together a new show there, whip it into shape and try it out on a new test audience, before hitting the road north for Madison Square Garden.

They dreamed, too, but how many museums can a small circus community support?

But all of that is gone, leaving Tito, who waged a valiant campaign to save the arena, now felling like a kid having just watched a circus throw down the canvas, pack the wagons and rumble off into darkness.  "There was a red ring out there where they trained bears and different acts from Europe," he says.  He envisioned the arena being turned into a museum.

After the Clyde Beatty Circus left the town of my boyhood, Santa Rosa, back in the early 1950s, there were three circles traced in the dirt.  I know the feeling of loss, Tito.  If you're lucky,  you might find a few ticket stubs amidst the Venice ruins.

Art Concello designed it to be functional, period

The great flyer did everything he could to save the architecturally sterile arena.  "It was a sentimental thing that I thought everybody would stand up and help,” he told Josh Taylor of ABC's  “Save this landmark. This landmark was Venice."

Some things just aren't worth saving.  Other things more than worth saving are callously ignored. Hell, and I do say Hell, we haven't even ONE Concello seat wagon to walk around, stare at in retrospective wonder, dream over and under and around. Not ONE, damn it!   Who let that happen? 

I hereby challenge the millionaire land grabbers at the Ringling Art Museum, fighting to trump paintings with peanuts,  to build from scratch a full scale Art Concello seat wagon.   I know of a rich model builder there who could easily make it happen.  For him, chump change.  Or maybe down in Baraboo, where they  have experience building full scale model circus wagons

In spirit, I agree with Tito Tito, who, in many sawdust quarters, is everybody's favorite trap star.  He flew like a well controlled fireball. Sizzled, from swing to catcher’s grip, turning three and flashing his sky-wide smile out of another aerial orbit. 

"To save something historical is very important,” told the circus fireball to Josh Taylor “That's why Europe is so famous."

The spirit of Gunther Gebel Williams may remain, it alone, in the form of a little barn in which the great German animal trainer paced his cats through practice. 

“At the same meeting where Venice City Council members approved the demolition of the large arena,” reported Taylor, "a majority said to hold off on destroying a small octagonal building commonly referred to as the Gunter Gebel-Williams building."

"It just gives me chills to walk in here,” says Tito. “A tribute to Gunther Gebel-Williams. A great man.  A great performer."

Well, Tito, when Bob Mitchell once drove me down a Florida highway, stopped along an open field,  pointed to an object half burred in the distance, I got out and crunched through rattle snake-laced grass to reach the thing, to climb up into a small back section, and for a magical moment stand inside a piece of hallowed history, where once, big top icons dressed and rested between performances: A Concello seat wagon.

I know the feeling, Tito.  It gave me chills.

Thanks to Don Covington for linking me to this report, filed yesterday