Six year's in the making, Philip Weyland's documentary on the life and times of quad God Miguel Vazquez, will world premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival, on April 17th and 18th.
A circus fan from boyhood, says Philip, the film "is, in part, a way to offer my respect to the heroes of my youth."
Weyland, like many of us with similar boyhoods, knows how circuses have changed. During the century just past, without a flying trapeze act on the bill, "circus was not and could not be considered a real circus," he writes. I vividly recall how that almost any trap act would bring the audience to its most rapt attention. A double and a passing leap, a few twirls -- Americans thrilled to whatever flew overhead!
It was in 1982, when the young prince of the air completed his first four revolutions before a Ringling audience in Arizona. The miraculous achievement landed major media attention, New York Times to Tom Brokow on NBC. Irvin Feld, his own greatest press agent, had laid the groundwork well. Some hailed it, correctly, the greatest feat ever in all of circus history.
Days of high-flying glory: Miguel with his wife, Rosa, starred on Ringling every season during the 1980s
You might say that Miguel, by divine coincidence, flew through my heart late one August night on my birthday (the 19th) , when he actually completed his first quad -- in a late night practice session in Long Beach, CA, the city where Alfredo Codona took his own life. How tangled up I vainly feel in a great cosmic convergence of circus history. Codona's death. Miguel's quad. My birthday. Miguel raised my pulse once again, the next year during an afternoon show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, the city of my birth, when, after turning another quad, (the first of his I had seen), upon returning to the fly bar, he performed another first --- a pair of mid-air pirouettes!
Yours truly, center, with the director, right, waiting for my big moment under the L.A. sun
So it was especially exciting when Philip Weyland reached out to me one day, asking if I would be up for an interview. It took place, six years ago this August, in Monrovia, a little east of Hollywood, in one of those large swanky hillside homes that give off a certain air of glamor. Where even the flowers have to audition to appear. Maybe it was the cameras, the cables, the crew. They sat me out on a veranda, under a heavy sun, and there the first part of the interview would take place. How like a celebrity it made me feel.
Weyland was just beginning. Over the next few years, he and camera would travel to Las Vegas, to Sarasota and Bloomington, among other locations. They filmed at Ringling and Vargas.
Tony Steel makes a strong, winning impression in the film
About a year or so ago, Phil sent me a few short clips of the film-in-progress. Surprise! I had told him and worried that I might come across looking too lethargically detached. Saw myself, many years ago on a local San Francisco kids show, and what a stiff. Here, at least I look alive and animated. Relief. That's the good part. Now, as for the other part -- oh, to see ourselves as others see us! I did not see Me. I saw -- deep sigh, well, let's say, a hyperactive cross between a very famous comedian and a very unfamous but most powerful circus owner. Not saying who. That's not me there!
For you who love and respect Tony Steel, from the few clips I saw, he comes across as cool, likable, down-to-earth, a genuine asset. Steel was the first flyer to advance beyond the triple into three-and-a-half revolutions.
Two trap titans: Miguel Vazquez and Tito Gaona (all photos courtesy of Philip Weyland)Are there really flyers out there today turning genuine quads? Maybe so. Maybe not. Maybe in semi-free falls, or starting out higher. Five somersaults in Korea -- sounds absolutely breathtaking, however spun. I'm not a doubter, just a realist. The Russians turned quads -- who among them, and for how long? Trapeze acts have exploded in dazzling creativity, and that I like. And yet, gazing up to watch a solo flyer swing out, somersault over and over and over again, perfectly into the hands of the catcher is one of the most elevating thrills under a big top.
Miguel brought great dignity to the air. Like Codona, he flew in flawless form -- more the swan than the sprinter, more ballet than ballyhoo. He set the gold standard, and has no doubt influenced new generations to reach for the same. That his sky-high triumphs did not make it into either Paul Binder's book Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion, or Linda Simon's The Greatest Shows on Earth is inexplicable. Sadly, we live in times when stopping the show to announce a quad may not be as momentous as once it was -- for there may not be as much of the right kind of show to stop. Not, anyway, in this corner of the planet.
And please remember, if you go to see The Last Great Flyer, when you see me talking, that's not really me.
P.S. Thank you, Phil.