Clown for a New Day

Clown for a New Day
Dagwood might make it in today's emasculated circus

Monday, April 07, 2014

Out of the Past: Circus in Film: Cirque du Soleil Due Out in 3D ... I'll Take Retro 2D

First posted December 23, 2010

Director James Cameron (Titanic; Avatar) joining visions with Cirque du Soleil to put its acrobats in 3D movies. First project, nameless so far, now in production. What to make of it all? Circus action has not always translated well on film. That third dimension just might make it a more viable experience.

Of course, it could also further distance circus art from the grittier realities it once captured. Lately, I'm finding myself being pulled backward in a black and white, very 2D direction, thanks to some old cinema discoveries. They remind us of how far our ring stars have advanced away from old-fashioned sawdust drama, escaping through a maze of fog machines and special effects, masks and trenchant body-movement allusions to Big Themes. These old movies come crudely alive, and yet they celebrate things we are losing.

This evening, I watched an old 1937 flick, Circus Girl. You'll discover in these B movies now and then those acts that once thrilled your Mom and Pop. Heck, that once thrilled me. Circus Girl ends up over a cage teaming with distempered lions; above it, a trapeze flyer in a Suicide Act, billed to swing high, sans net, over the Big Cage, sans net also. Love envy has placed him in this perilous position, as a romantic rival in love with his wife has weakened a rope that will fail and drop him, if all goes as planned, into the jaws of those angry wild animals.

It's worth seeing how he is narrowly saved from the unthinkable. Better watching the evil saboteur taking the tumble instead. Great climax! Trap maneuvers executed by the Escalante Family. One of them, a lone female aerialist, executes stellar moving heel and toe catches on the single bar. In the simplistic realm of this very old movie, yet there are viable elements to recall and think about. Are circuses giving these dynamics up at their own box office peril?

Another cheap low-down second-rate cinema treat worth sending to your Netflix queue is 1966's Circus of Fear. A circle of thieves, one of whom is fatally stabbed during a botched up heist, end up on a circus lot, in the midst of a plot I can hardly remember concerning an assassin. They become embroiled in some wayward backyard intrigue. Around this stuff, a few good acts entertain.

What I vividly recall is a woman strapped to a revolving disc while swords come whizzing through her limbs on the prop. Nothing nearly as subtle or subtly sexxy as that Cordon woman on the Ringling show in the mid-1950s. Retro all the way. A stale blast of fresh air.

For a rare moment (pre PC, pre circus ballet), I could feel an old guiltless boyhood thrill.

Maybe it's time to watch Ring of Fear Again. Closer to the old now disgraced order. Yeah, I know -- basic costumes embroidered with sequins over bodies that look like human bodies. Growling lions and tigers. Daring whip masters unafraid to show anger. Kinky side show freaks flaunting their physical eccentricities. Loud smoky barkers. The gawking crowds, eyes wide open to the hooky yet -- lest we forget -- very real threat of it all.

The world, uncensored. The real world.

Now, if director Cameron and his 3d cameras could turn their focus onto something like that ..

12.23.10.

7 comments:

FRANK CURRY said...

Regarding your reference to the "Cordon woman on the Ringling show in the mid-fifties",it brings back a fun memory.

In 1979-80,I was visiting the legendary German CIRCUS SARRASANI,that was playing in Zurich,Switzerland.

Between performances,I was having refreshments with the owner Fritz Mey-Sarrasani and his wife Ingrid and their young son.

Ingrid looked so familiar that I finally remembered where I had last seen her.

I asked her if she had been in the memorable Cordon bullwhip act on the Ringling show 25 years earlier?

Surprised that I recognized her,she happily smiled and said "YES".

Her maiden name was Ingrid Stosch.

Last I heard, she and her son Andre owned,among other things,the Sarrasani Dinner Theater in Dresden,Germany and produced its well received show.

Showbiz David said...

Thanks, Frank. You have adjusted my memory bank. All these years, to think that I assumed the Cordons came from out of the west, like perhaps Texas! So ... they came from Germany; I goggled out a verification. How cleverly were they attired by Miles White. And how well was the act scored by Evans.

Another of my long-held historical misconceptions, only righted a few years ago: I assumed, don't know why, that Francis Brunn came from France. He, too, of course, came from Germany.

FRANK CURRY said...

DAVID, you certainly understand why I was able to vividly remember Ingrid after 25 years had passed.

If I recall correctly,the act also consisted of a father, his daughter and two sons.

Douglas McPherson said...

Another circus flick worth seeing: Trapeze with Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. Thrilling trapeze action and colourful backstage scenes.

Showbiz David said...

Were I pressed to name the best circus movie ever made, it would likely and easily be Trapeze. Although there is the great Fellini flick, too.

In Trapeze, I feel good seeing the John Ringling North figure, and how his presence, as it did true to history, excited the artists, mainly because most of them, then, dreamed of performing on the Ringling show and opening at Madison Square Garden.

That world of American domination under the big top is long gone.

Dave said...

Almost an aside but the mention of knife throwing reminded me of the lovely French film La Fille Sur Le Pont (The Girl on the Bridge).

Not a circus movie per se but 100% knife throwing and a great comedy noir as only the french can do.

Worth a look.

Showbiz David said...

I love French cinema, when it's good, of course.

Comedy noir is a new term to me.

I might take a look.