Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: Christmas Cards

Remember Christmas cards?

Here is Don, writing to me December 12, 1958, sharing his plans for a card.

"Have been thinking of having some Christmas cards made sometime.  I would like to have maybe a Sunburst wagon wheel laying against a fence in the snow, or else have a barn in the background and then have all sorts of old wagons just outside with the snow quite deep and covering most everything. Would be a lot of work and all but would be interesting.  By gollys, just thought since I have the barn and wagons I guess that I could take a picture of my own stuff and use cotton to create the snow????"

I  love his imagined images.

Oh, such simpler times they were, and I suppose each generation ends up saying essentially the same thing.  I'd almost be happy to give up my PC and the lush research-communication benefits to get back some of the things we've lost, like a telegram guy knocking on your door, one telephone in only one room in the house.  The afternoon paper landing out there on the grass, its headlines bearing an urgency.  Three TV channels, so much easier.  Playing with kids outside on summer evenings.  I guess now, they face book in the dark.  How pitifully remote.

One of the best things back then was waiting each day in December for the postman to arrive with another stack of cards for our mail box. Sometimes, he'd make two deliveries!  The word "Christmas" was not yet fraught with political hysteria. 
How I miss getting lots of cards in the mail, most of them back then addressed to our family.  The envelopes.  The colors inside.  Snowy scenes of sleighs and brick houses, their windows aglow with sparking lights around tinseled trees. The warm greetings. The valued handwriting of friends and family.

I still like to send them, but only to those from whom, the previous season, I'd received one as well.  Otherwise, I feel part of an irrelevant tradition nearly as quaint as vaudeville.   I keep a list; it has been narrowing down over the years.

When I get an e-card from somebody, I am just as apt to delete it.  So cold. So anonymous. So mass produced; how easy to add my name to your list. 

A handwritten card connects one soul to another.  Shows the effort taken to reach out.

I don't know how Don's card turned out that year.  Here is a card of myself, which I sent out several years before.  Taken of me at the Redwood Empire Roller Palace in Santa Rosa.   What perfect penmanship, I am so proud looking back!   I think I peaked in my 12th year, and then I go so lost, tangled up in scribbling out words, sentences, revisions upon revisions,  that I lost my hand.

Many years later, as we faced the last year of the old millennium, I sent out a photo of my amusement park in the works, to the most people who would ever receive a card from me, about 60.  The name of my park is what inspired me to send it.

A Century of Thrills ... May '99 Be Your Best Yet

The card came with the above greeting.  The sepia photo shows my model midway so young then, with only the Big Dipper roller coaster, Thimble Theatre fun house (based on the one rotting away in a back shed at Baraboo), and The Whip.  In seasons to come, I would add the Tilt-A-Whirl, Ferris Wheel, Swings and, now in the works, Laugh in the Dark.

12.1.13/revised-expanded 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New Hollywood Memoir by Showbiz David Hits the Amazon Shelves Around Christmas

Follow Broadway dreamers Mike and David down to LA, believing they are the next Rodgers and Hammerstein waiting to be discovered. Toiling in the shadows of Tinseltown, where on dozens of small stages eager young actors fresh off the bus share the spotlights with forgotten screen idols and new stars rising, the two collaborators are soon cured of their heady illusions. Author-playwright David Lewis evokes an amusing memoir of his years in that dream-drenched world, set in the 1980s – amusing until the City of Angels sends the two dreamers down separate paths, one ultimately tragic. 

Hopelessly Hollywood: My Dreamland Diary, from Small Town Extra to Musical Thaetre King for a Day, is a story of the town’s seductive spell over Lewis — from Bette Davis making a movie in his home town, to the night in Hollywood when he learned that his musical about the Ringling brothers was Broadway bound. That’s what he was told. That’s what he read. And you can read all about it in this factually fascinating tale of life with real people in a real place — otherwise famed for glitter, glory, hype and heartache, and star-studded scandals. Here is Hollywood laid bare. Hollywood with a soul.

260 pages/illustrated/$14.95

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Circus Scramble: Telling Cirque’s Survey What I Think ... When 3-Rings Ruled ... Grandma, Was That Really YOU? ... Ringling Promises New Old Fashioned Danger ... And More! ...

Update:  12/21/14:  Cirque du Soleil now said to be looking for major investment partners, including possibility of selling a "majority stake," as reported in The Financial Times of  London.

Finally, I opened a survey sent to me by Cirque du Soleil, since I had invested $95.00 to get a decent seat at Kurios - not without sight line obstructions.  The questions are extensive, all of them being answered by the usual 1 to 10 rating system.  At the end, comes a blank window, asking me to post a comment.  And here was mine:

“Here is my biggest surprise.  Guy Laliberte talked about returning to the company's roots. This is hardly that, but an ever more elaborate special effects production, giving short shrift to circus acts of a world class order."

Among tons of questions -- choreography, direction, characters, lights, --- the only mention of circus action comes in a two word descriptor "acrobatic performances".  They did want to know if I thought there were enough of those, and I think I answered a five or six.

Can Kurios curb an ominous downward trend in critical reception and ticket sales for the company?   Sorry to say, at this point, I don’t feel so emotionally connected to the troupe as I once did -- whatever else they may wish to give me, the circus part should be just as outstanding, too, thank you.

What next down the stack?  From a promo leaflet put out by the American Circus Corporation back in around, I’d guess, circa 1920s, and how stunning a contrast to the above:

“The uncensored circus has received much editorial attention during the current year ... all sorts and conditions of humanity boost the circus spirit, and any organization which will energetically awaken the circus microbes which seem to be inherent in human nature — will sure reap results — but to do so and to give satisfaction a REAL THREE RING CIRCUS IS NEEDED, an ordinary vaudeville or variety circus can no longer be passed off as circus.”

Cultural whiplash:  Where am I now, and how far have I traveled away from that old three ring circus?   I am, it feels, centuries away:  Down Mexico way, more than rumors warn that the big shots who run the country are bent on running animals acts off the lot, and those who pay money to see them are showing up, not too impressed, asking “where are the animals?”  Without which, me no wanna buy a ticket to your dull show.

And here in Oakland, to further deconstruct what is left of the one ring standing, the city council has officially voted bull hooks off the lot, come 2017, giving Feld plenty of time to do his deal making behind the scenes – unless the man can break his fixation on elephants.  If the bans hold, he won’t be welcome in Oakland OR L.A., and who knows what other cities.  More out there are lining up to take similar stands. They have, like it or not, CFA, that damming You Tube of Feld’s elephants backstage getting cursed out and slapped around.  Not pretty when it came out five years ago.  Not any prettier now.

END RINGERS: I’m cooking up an end-of-the-year random list of Goods and Bads, Naughtys & Nices. Did you know, juggling records as of 2006 included 13 rings, 12 balls, 9 clubs — and a partridge in a pear tree?  ... The recent passing of Struppi Hanneford, fabulous in the air, wonderful lady on the ground,  marked a big loss for the great Old Guard of ring artists who once wowed our senses ... Is that really YOU,  Grandma, showing up on the Hanneford show, or is it one of your licensed stand ins?  A Circus Report review drops the name Bary Lubin, the Original as you in the know know, but in other quarters closer to BAC land, Lubin is thought to be living in Sweden. Speaking of clowns,  those who hide out behind funny faces bent on scarring to death the public are now stalking the streets of France, attacking innocents, per Chuck Burnes, in CR ...  Now, even circus clowns are becoming an endangered species.  No animals ... fewer daredevils to speak of -- we are nearly down to the last remaining acceptable default act, to quote from the CDS survey, "acrobatic performances" ... Ah yes, and just in the nick of posting this one, it just hit my brain that Ringling's new opus soon to be uncorked down Florida way is to be called.  Circus Xtreme.  Love it ... And look here -- they are still sending in the clowns!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cirque du Soleil’s Intensely Creative Kurios Works Overtime to Win Us Back: Give Them Passing Marks for Trying

Circus Review
Cirque du Soleil - Kurios
San Francisco, December 5

In its most infections frames, what the latest offering from Cirque du Soliel seems the most happy doing is simply dancing.  Being a little goofy and off axis juggling and tumbling, making magic and riding upside-down bicycles — and dancing.  It's happy heart is that of a free spirited Italian variety show romping through the streets of Rome.  Fellini would have loved filming it all.

The agreeable spirit of quirky invention can make the more standard circus turns (two of them attached to lifelines) seem a tad secondary, or make that obligatory (a touch of Corteo comes to mind).   Even, slightly passe, as if we have somehow left the big top rather than entered it, and are on our way for other worlds to conquer and charm. The attractive revelers, who engage more directly with the audience this time around, have a ball cavorting about on ingenious rigging devices that lift and drop them with terrific force and agility.

Directed by Michel Laprise, the party begins at the wacky control panels of a whimsically mad-scientist character, who is very funny just to watch waddling about, puttering through a maze of gadgets, turning knobs to test lights, ridding oddball contraptions to prove his obscure genius – all of which gives the company ample sanction to flex its abundant creativity.  That’s about the gist of the first half.

It is not until after a long intermission, only lacking a pony ride to make the mechanizing orgy complete (there is free water this year, but no cups – they cost a buck), that Kurios turns itself into a high powered circus spectacular, and here the Montreal monster proves that it can still rise gloriously to the occasion when it has to, as here it surely must.  Public patronage has been ominously on the decline in recent seasons, a fact even acknowledged by the Cirque King himself.

First to soar are troupe exploits over a super-large trampoline, followed by a couple of fellows working straps in a clean efficient fashion.  After more audience clowning and dancing, and a rather drawn out finger puppet show, big top gusto resumes on the ground, where the company develops vaulting acrobatics in fantastically thrilling ways.  Much too marvelously complicated to explain, nor have I at hand a program to name names.  On principal, I refused to invest $20 in one. 

So, whatever you may think of the part that came before the break (I recall a blur of phantasmagorical stage pictures) , you are sure to go out singing at least half the show’s praises.  And the captivating special effects alone may haunt your imagination.   There were a large number of kiddies in the audience who sounded tickled.   I keep thinking movie.  I also keep thinking another cinematic bomb.   Antonioni might get it right.   Is he still alive?

On film, it would certainly be far easier to take in and comprehend.  When Kurios is working its many optical illusions, it is a campaign that demands meticulous attention, which can make being a patron to this party a bit of a workout, doubly so if your view is partially blocked by one of the four imposing tent poles – or if you are not particularly fond of craning your neck to peer deeply into a cosmos through an opening at the top of the tent. Bring binoculars.

Another question mark in my mind is the featured clown, who took up plenty of time with the audience being enormously clever and drawing ample laughter, or so I heard. Yes, it's that kind of a circus, too.

This is the Cirque du Soleil that some of its most devoted critics are calling the “comeback" edition, perhaps responding to Guy Laliberte's promise to return the company to its roots.  Strange, this is hardly a return to the ingenious simplicity that marked the company's first efforts under a smaller tent with virtually no special effects.  Kurios is really an extension of a habit for ever more clever high-tech stage wizardry that the Cirque King can't seem to break himself of.

So as for “comeback,”  I’m not so sure.  And given the swaths of empty chairs under a fairly near-full tent pitched in a city perhaps best suited by liberal bent to embrace what is on parade at the moment — San Francisco may not be so sure, either.

Overall rating (out of 4 stars tops):  3 stars                                 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Peter Pan Live! on NBC Savaged by Those Who Wished to Savage it, and Many Did -- Ratings 50% Below Sound of Music

Warning: If you are Peter Pan fan, please go no further.  It is not my intent to rattle your  dreams of flight – at the end of a long rope.

I nearly slept through the first Peter Pan, decades ago when NBC presented the original Broadway version live. All I remember was Marty Martin flying over a stage attached to a long wire, singing some songs that sounded more like songs made for TV than for hit Broadway shows, and this funny man, Cyril Richard, making me laugh.  Lots of pirates running around the stage, but, somehow, the whole thing never hooked me.  I sat there trying to feel attached to a story -- if only I could find a story.

When Mary Martin flew, yes, the show on TV truly took glorious flight.  Back down on the stage, it looked and sounded like a second rate musical made for  television.

Thus, I grew up Peter Pan-averse, unable to catch the spirit of flight when endless touring productions of the show flew in and out of town – even when my late friend Mike, a Peter Pan nut, managed to pin me down into a seat before the show by announcing on my birthday – Surprise! – that he had purchased two tickets to the show and ONE was for me. The venue was in San Francisco, where Peter Pan, adapted for the stage,  first flew.  On Broadway, it only flew a total of 149 times – by today’s standards, a full scale fiasco.  But Peter Pan on TV and on National Tours would not be the first  Broadway turkey to enjoy a successful post-New York career.

Sitting next to Peter Pan advocate Mike, I managed to put on – force would be more like it —  a happy Peter Pan face, faking it all the way.  All the wile, praying for the final curtain to fall.  Maybe by then, I was just to stubborn to give the show a chance.  My brother Dick is a great Pan fan.   You see, they are all around us.   Maybe I should try facing the show with him.

So, yes, I was more than ready to be tickled by a barrage of nasty anti-Peter Pan reviews, over NBC’s recent Peter Pan Live!, a followup to last year’s NBC Sound of Music.  The show starred Allison   Williams, daughter of the network's newscaster, Brian (a mere conincidence, I imagine), and Chritsoper Walken, seen above.  Viewership, half of that for last year's Sound of Music, was still considered a big success. On balance, critical reception favored Peter Pan over last year's more even ill-remembered Sound of Music.  This Pan was panned by many.

I only watched a few minutes of the show,  deciding I would rather rent it from Netflix than sit through a three-hour commercial-intense ordeal.  When I tuned in, Williams was finely at work on a song, and her winning voice did engage me.

Critics,  you're on!

Associated Press: Peter Pan needed a lot more fairy dust. NBC's live telling of J.M. Barrie's classic tale Thursday was an oddly ponderous, disconnected, disjointed and jerky mess. If it had been a Broadway show, it would have gotten the hook (pun intended).
It wasn't the small things that broke the spell. Ungraceful wire work, clunky transitions, a Tinkerbell that was as annoying as a mosquito and sounded like a wind chime, a tea cup that fell from Peter's head and some technical glitches.  "Peter Pan Live!" simply never flew.

Variety: A woefully lifeless production that, the fancy wiring notwithstanding, never quite got off the ground. (And neither did your boring review, Variety)

Huffington Post:   ... it became monotonous. Many of my friends with kids said their little ones lost interest halfway through ...Then I went back and watched Martin's version and no contest, the latter still shines like a new penny and holds you captivated in its magical spell.

Morning After:  a three-hour college musical theater show whose dullness was punctuated with impressive gayness.

Los Angeles Times theatre critic Charles McNulty, tweeting:

Tweet:  With “The Sound of Music,” NBC seemed to be employing a strategy of saving the American musical by killing it.

Tweet: With Peter Pan, I think the plan is to save the American musical by etherizing it.

Tweet: I think this experiment in live musical theater may just prove that the age of enforced commercial viewing is over.

Given my Peter Pan atheism, for you whom I may have offended, here, from the New York Times, a gift to restore your faith:
New York Times: Peter Pan Live! was a loving, lavish tribute to a beloved musical that offered a new generation of children a chance to use their smartphones to keep Tinkerbell alive. (Peter asked children to clap, but an NBC crawl urged them to also tweet.)
It was a cautious, please-all production, but it took guts to do it.

What next, NBC Live?  Here are some ideas:

Annie Live! -- perfect for your target audience, and a great show

Sweeney Todd Live! (take it to your critics, and dare them to dis this one)

Oklahoma Live! -- hard to imagine your messing up this indestructible classic, but what a challenge to try.

Sunday in the Park with George Live!  -- If you can bring this Stephen Sondheim yawner to life, that would mark a first for the show, and a public service award for you.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Feld Deals Down and Dirty with Oakland Coliseum, the Arena Considering a Ban on Bull Hooks

It just came across on ABC TV's San Francisco affiliate, KGO:

If the Oakland Coliseum Arena follows through with a proposed ban on elephant billhooks, they stand to lose over a million dollars a year.  Here's why, and here is what grabbed my attention fast:

Not only will Feld pull the circus, he will yank his fluffy Disney ice shows and something called, I think, Motor Cross

This strikes me as (legal, I suppose)  calculated coercion. and I wonder how it may play out on the PR front in the Bay Area, not the most hospital place for traditional circus. 

When the news came out, earlier in the year, about the L.A. City council having banned the use of bull hooks (to take place in a couple of years --- this should be interesting to watch unfold), the only thing I heard reported from Feld Entertainment was that the circus reacted more along the emotion of regret, stating that it would not be able to bring the circus to Tinsletown.  Nothing was said, to my knowledge, about the blades and trucks being denied the city.

Can you smell a slowly seething anger gathering flames?


Sunday, December 07, 2014

Out of the Past, Symphony and Sawdust: Strike up the Clowns! Circus Musica Promises to Raise the Conductor's Baton

 Originally posted  September 28, 2013

Update, Today The show is still on tour, with a date December 19 at Portland, and dates before and after that in British Columbia.

Roll up your rings!  Here's Comes the Concert Hall Big Top!

Europe's renowned audience participation jester, David Larible stars. 

Down the Covington chute:  Direct from Texas, yet another alternative big top rises from the Long Horn state, which is turning itself into a launch pad for The New.  If their latest invention, Cirque Musica, pans out through inaugural dates in a few concert halls (Baltimore, Buffalo and Calgary), the majority in arenas, you may get to watch buffoonery to Brahms, rolla-bolla to Ravel.

For the Double Wheel's furry, I recommend a touch of  Shostakovitch

Cirque Musica promises a program that "blends the grace and thrills of the world’s greatest circus performers with stunning symphonic music from classical, POPS, and popular repertoire."

Already, I'm a sucker, waiting for them to play the Paramount Theatre here in Oakland. The perfect venue for what it looks like they are up to.  The Oakland Symphony could be had, I suppose, for a bargain basement price.

 Looks maybe cool

Who is behind this Brahmsian ballyhoo?  Producer Stephen Cook, who comes with "leadership" positions, according to website bios,  from the Dallas Symphony to Feld Entertainment. Not bad.

He has a vision.  Will the people come?  A teaser video is a fair wow.  A violinist appears to have been extended to the upward tip of a free-flowing fabric, playing away.  A young singer delivers a soulful modern ballad.  Most of acts bear strong classical scoring.  Count me in on this one!

Check out their website:

Imagining the impact of Old World music on a conventional lineup of circusy acts, here is my wish list for high- brow sawdust scoring:

 At least, she's riding her hoop, not navel-twirling it

Number One:  Stravinsky's Petrushka gets my top vote.  I can't think of a more jubilant musical background to run, tumble, cavort and sore with the joy, wonderment, thrills, chills and thunder of a circus show.  Best of all, it's in public domain, so producer Cook and Company would be spared any inconvenient fees to the Mother Monster of Musicians-Come-First greed - ASCAP.

As for select acts, here are some suggestions:

Fabrics:  Ravel, Daphnis and Chloe

Jugglers:  Debussy, Calliwog's Cakewalk

Canon:  Respighi, Roman Festivals

Flying Trapeze: Ravel, La Valse

Kelly Miller Peanut Pitch: Rimsky-Korsakov, Flight of the Bumblebee

Elephants (none here, but heck, for the fun of it ...):  Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra. Band 1: Introduction.   Bartok's bleak landscape, haunting and primordial, should give the pachyderms a more authentic sense of place, re-birthing them into their native terrain. Of course, PETA might complain that the number is too too existentially depressing.

Dogs:  Gershwin, American in Paris, the opening sequence.  They will love.

Clowns: Beethoven's Ninth  (I just threw it in for effect). 

David Larible: Ives, The Unanswered Question

My prognosis:  Sounds enchanting, if they play my favorites. Perhaps too good to be true, considering the musical preferences of a populist audience.  Therefore, as iffy as twelve tone.

 How about Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker for a whip-cracking Texan?


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Selling Circus Arts on TV and At the Movies: It Rarely Works


Back in the world of John Ringling North, the impresario who produced some of the greatest editions ever of the circus, in the 1950s he faced two tough competitors —  movies and television – and he successfully met each on its own terms.  "Success" meaning lush patronage for the filmed versions – if not a boost at the ticket windows for the touring circus itself.  But the winning formats he helped launch would not be duplicated years later, when two major touring companies, Cirque du Soleil and Big Apple Circus, both tried to pitch their goods in the same mediums, to abysmal results.

When North and Art Concello were trying to figure out how to use cinema to their marketing advantage, if not by deft adaptation, then by luck going with the right people, did North’s brilliant showmanship conquer both mediums.

First, at the movies.  Cecil B De Mille’s academy award winning (best picture of the year) epic, The Greatest Show on Earth, wowed the nation with its gripping story line (gripping for the time), its dramatic depiction of the logistical movement of the show itself (complete with an overwrought train wreck that retards the film’s natural pulse – I fast forward through it), and scenes of actual circus acts and specs in performance.  How big a part had North played?  For one thing, through take-charge Concello, he refused to renew an earlier option held by studio chief David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind), and signed, instead, with De Mille.

The movie was such a sensation, that, ironically, it — along with the early force of television — may have suppressed annual attendance at the circus.  But one thing it did for sure was to sustain in the public’s mind the dazzling superiority of the Ringling product.  One might argue that, had the movie not been made, business may have been even weaker during a tricky decade when the rise of TV was dominating American entertainment habits.

Which brings us to television.  In 1955, North, televised a one-hour highlights of the new show, on the eve of its opening in New York, on CBS, doubtlessly seen by millions.  The format was repeated later that year for a Christmas Special with Charlton Heston, from winter quarters.  And they did another TV highlights in the spring of 1956.   Experts debated whether North was giving away too much of the performance.  The 1955 season's attendance was down, but business during the aborted '56 tour (the big top falling for good in Pittsburgh), was said by some to have been rising. Six years later, North reinstated the TV highlights program, with Arthur Godfrey that year serving as host.

North also flirted with television in 1963, when he signed with ABC to include footage of Ringling acts during a weekly one hour dramatic series in color, called The Greatest Show on Earth. The series starred Jack Palance, seen here, right, with Lucile Ball,  who played a tough circus boss keeping peace within the family. It was certainly not a flop, but facing stiff competition from the Jack Benny program and  Petticoat Junction, ABC pulled the show after one complete season, "Mostly," writes a viewer on the IMDb website, "I remember enjoying the acts that were featured - lion-taming acts, trapeze acts, etc."

After the Felds bought the circus in the fall of 1967, they retained most everything that North had developed, including the annual TV tease.  The last such telecast occurred around 1989.

In his turn with cinema, the dynamically aggressive Irvin Feld  had, at one time or another, a major motion picture about the circus in the works (one with "master of disaster"filmmaker Irwin Allen), none of which got made.
So, John Ringling North’s two major excursions into film and television would mark a remarkable exception to the failure of contemporary cinematic efforts, as witness two circuses each lending its acts to the cameras.  What had North done right that isn't being done now?   Hard to say.  It might have been a matter simply of glorifying circus artistry itself rather than  trying to connect it to some big "arching" sociological theme.  People much prefer cotton candy over the big top broccoli that too many circuses today seem bent on serving them.  And people tune into television to watch -- television. Not circus.

Cirque du Soleil:   Incredibly, the company granted PBS widespread access to the acts from its many Las Vegas units.  They called it Flowers in the Desert.  Two hours. The result, in my view far from captivating, fed the viewer an overdose of the Cirque formula stressing acrobats, which, lacking the variety of traditional circus, can wear out a welcome mat fast.  I have yet to see a  PBS rerun of this overstuffed slog.  Yes, it did have a few golden moments, but not nearly enough.  PBS gives prime attention, through endless reruns, to virtually all of the other performing arts.  Not the circus.
Big Apple Circus: Another date with PBS that has yet to be replayed would be Circus, a six-part series broadcast in 2010.  The reviews, not surprisingly, were lukewarm  The sprawling treatment, lacking a strong central focus, came and went like a strange sad parade of disconnected souls attached to a struggling enterprise, at a time of organizational upheaval.  During filming, Paul Binder announced his plans to retire.  Sporadic film clips of the performance seemed disconnected, too, and rather secondary compared to back of the tent interviews with cast and crew.

The producers gained more traction in the shadows, listening to the personal stories of company members, and aiming their cameras at some unflattering things, such as into a filthy truck-mounted restroom used by non-performers and roustabouts. Just another contradiction to a non-profit circus claiming to be New York’s own and to humanely care about  the people it employs.  We watched Paul Binder throwing a tantrum in one scene, Paul Binder, in another, humbling himself to reveal that his retirement announcement had not generated much response. In other words, nobody seemed to care.  The thrill of circus? Too little of it under this tent.

If the producers of Circus wanted to go deep, perhaps they should have gone deeper.  Symptomatic of the rambling treatment was how they played up the New York opening just ahead —  This is the Big Test!  The ultimate arena for any performer! We're in the Big Apple now! What will the reviews say? --- but then never disclosed what the reviews said.  The program's most poignant thread was the plight of a new clown. Glen Heroy, above, he feeling completely ignored and ostracized by the company.  Paul Binder gave him, face to face, high marks, lending the impression that he was a clown they were looking for, but he was not invited back. Frontline, how would you like to go under this big top?

It reminded me a little of the glum dry book, Mud Show, a big seller that followed the dreary lives of circus people on the old Hoxie show, but failed to evoke the magic of circus. 

Tackling the Big Screen, Not

Cirque du Soleil collaborated with famed film director James Cameron (Titanic) for a screen treatment of the show, Worlds Away 3D.  A barrage of negative notices complained of it coming off as a tired and and hollow advertisement for a lot of emotionally empty action. Rotten Tomatoes gives the video a rousing 47%, and that, kids, marks a critical flop.

Next, to be explored in greater detail: The recent Big Apple Circus date, streaming its latest show into hundreds of movie shows, nationwide.

What in the world happened to this bold and revolutionary misfire?

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 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.  

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!