Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Big Toppings: Kelly Miller Shuns Texas Mud ... Walker Resists Tiny Fine for Tragic Tent Collapse .. New Flick Toasts Quad King Miguel Vazquez ... Student Circus Pioneer Paul Pugh Dies ... And More on the Inside!

Out of the mud, at last? ... Kelly Miller Circus moving back its opening to merry March rather than ferocious February, when for seasons it’s opened in Texas, often stuck in muck under lashing wind and rain.  Apparently, North II and Royal I have had enough of the stoic trouping through weather’s madness ...  On their website, show this year looks to be show last year, minus a few departures including tiger guy Ryan Holder, he slated to work the big Baraboo summer date, along with two other K-M alumni, clown chums Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs.  The duo appear to be shucking aside greasepaint for a new comedy act, Nothing but Nonsense.  Maybe a good career makeover given how, these days, big top buffoons are equated with x-cons in funny faces on parole or on a rampage 

Walker Bros. Circus Fights Small Potatoes fine for tragic tent collapse:   AP reporting that show is contesting more than $33,000 in penalties proposed by Fed Officials.  The small Sarasota-based circus was sited by OSHA for failure to use mandated tent stakes and to heed “severe weather and high wind warnings” The whip-lashed  tent toppled on August 3, only minutes after the show had started at the Lancaster Fairgrounds in New Hampshire, killing two people and injuring over 50, among a crowd inside the tent numbering about 100 ... Robert Young, 41, and his 6-year-old daughter, Annabelle, died on August 3. Said a spokesman for OSHA, “They did not reach a resolution, so the company is contesting the citation.”  I’m wondering:  How much would be fair, in the view of the Walker office, for the death of two people traced directly to its gross negligence?  A few hundred dollars? ...Free tickets and peanuts for a make up date?  A Lifetime Pass on the pony ride?... The mind reels ... And, now let the mind fly backwards through time to a better day under the big tops ...

First Flight Impressions.  New doc on quad king Miguel Vazquez, The Last Great Circus Flyer, has its crowning moments, opening on a compelling note framed around the images of three rings and the poster of a lion, with a narrator''s voice stating, "I do know why the circus isn't the same."  The poignant feeling conveyed by film maker Phillip Weyland, the voice we hear, lends a sense of the great American circus  having vanished   And it makes for a grabbing premise.   But instead, his central focus falls upon Vazquez family life, much of it tediously mundane.  Meandering result makes for an overly long salute weak on narrative force.  On the plus side, to his credit Weyland draws effectively upon old film footage from TV news programs and actual circus performances.

Most memorable is the scene of Miguel at Monte Carlo Circus Festival, having failed several attempts at the quad and finally, now suffering from a bad shoulder, still making one last effort, and making it.   His form is as riveting as the feat itself.  Never have I seen a flyer’s body compose so perfect and fluid a line – the image borders on the surreal. Among those interviewed helping to tell the story (I was one), Tony Steele, seen above with Miguel and Juan Vazquez, steals the show. Armando Farfan, Jr. cuts a cool and knowing figure. Others like fizzy Jon Weiss add cheer to the toast.  Seems  a pity that Weyland  did not engage a writer, who might have imposed the discipline and restraint which the final cut sorely lacks.   Nonetheless, fans may value Phillip Weyland’s adoring contribution to a great chapter in American circus history.

END RINGERS: From the rough and tumble bandstand of Ringling’s tootmaster Merle Evans came a number of windjammers who later advanced to more prestigious posts. Such as Harvey Phillips, who  played for Merle as a teenager, becoming one of the greatest tuba players in the world.   In reverse, there were A-Class musicians like Buster Bailey,  principal percussionist with the NY Philharmonic, spending guest time in the band, sometimes to fill in for others.  And reveling in the ride.  This fanfare trumpeted my way from A Voice in the Wilderness ... Sticking to sawdust, other famous Ringling alumni include Boom Boom Browning, who stirred up a fresh excitement with more jazzy charts for Beatty-Cole,  and William Pruyn, a long time Irvin Feld musical arranger and bandleader.  Seems like if you could it in the Merle Evans band, you could make it anywhere ... Did you know that Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Jones was born to the Tulsa, Oklahoma family of circus operators Flora Mae and Phillip Ross Isley?  And why does the name ring a bell in my brain?  Can you name the circus?  Isley Bros?

The passing recently of Paul Pugh, a pioneer in summer student circus shows out of Wenatchee, WA, where he produced them for 65 years, will be missed by many.  Heck of a nice guy ...  Lastly, remembering the young lives of so many whom Paul Pugh inspired, here are photos of some.  For me, these images symbolize the pure youthful joy of discovering  circus magic.  It's a joy to be found here, locally, on Circus Bella; before that, on the old Pickle Family Circus.  Considering the majority of pictures that I googled up, it seems clear that Paul -- or his students -- favored the aerial arts. And how accomplished they look! 



Philip Weyland said...

David -You have seemingly missed the point of my documentary "The Last Great Circus Flyer". In your short review you wrote - "... opening on a compelling note framed in a dramatic question: What happened to the great American circus of yore?". David -that certainly is NOT how the film begins.

In my voice-over at the beginning, I state by inference that I well understood what had "happened" to the circus - but what I didn't understand was why trapeze was not as well "regarded" as it once was. Nowhere was it said in any form as you write: "What happened to the great American Circus of yore?". The question I posed at the beginning of the film was regarding the diminishing significance and audience interest in trapeze over the last 30-40 years.

Also - There was NEVER another "writer"on the documentary. The concept, direction and "writing" of the film was strictly mine. Certainly I had several people who assisted me with the technical aspects of editing, but they did NOT "write" any portion of the film. I was solely responsible for the content and the order the content appears in the film.

You wrote: "If only film maker Phillip Weyland, who poses the question , had followed through on this grabbing premise."

You criticize me for not following through on a "grabbing premise"? - a premise that was NOT even stated in the opening of "The Last Great Circus Flyer". It was never my intent to comprehensively address how circus has changed. You seemingly criticize me for not making a film that you would like to see... rather than one you saw. That's like being disappointed that "The Maltese Falcon" isn't about ornithology.

You wrote: "But instead, his central focus falls upon Vazquez family life, much of it tediously mundane."

Which portions of the film did you find "tediously mundane"? Perhaps the discussions and interviews about the risks and tragedies that occur in the circus world? Or the discussion about jealousy in the circus? The backstage segments filmed at Cirque du Soleil and Le Reve? The interaction with Miguel Vazquez and young flyers at a practice session? The brief segment about how costumes were created? The segment where Miguel decided to stop flying...and why? The segment where Miguel visits the Circus Museum in Sarasota at "The Ringling"? The brief discussion of the "changing circus" as it primarily relates to trapeze? Miguel's interaction with his sons teaching them the art of trapeze? The discussion of the discipline that parents brought to the training of circus children in the past? The brief overview of the history of trapeze? The discussion about how some performers have various kinds of "fear" (including a fear of heights)? The elaborate parade and reception following Miguel's wedding in 1983? The segment at Circus Vargas showing 4 different trapeze performers doing FOUR consecutive triples in a row? The segment featuring Miguel's youngest son attempting to "fly'? The segments at trapeze schools depicting the passion and interest young flyers have for trapeze? The segments featuring trapeze greats Miguel and Tito Gaona discussing the past and present of "trapeze"? The Vazquez brothers attempting to complete a triple... one last time?

I challenge you to find a documentary that focuses on the wide range of trapeze-related subjects that are addressed in this film by the living masters of trapeze.

I certainly know that I can't please everyone when creating a film - so as a filmmaker - I try to "please" myself... by including in a film that which I think is important, interesting and meaningful.

Philip Weyland

Director - "The Last Great Circus Flyer"

Showbiz David said...


As I recall, your strong voice in the opening seemed to cast trapeze in a greater context of the American circus in general. It promised a kind of dramatic arc that did not come to pass. Blame my faulty expectations if you like. In fact, I wished you had narrated the film all the way through, your voice was that compelling.

Tedious? As much as I enjoyed the highlights, such as Miguel’s quad at Monte Carlo, there were many things that left me unengaged. Example: watching one of the brothers backstage working props at Cirque du Soleil with a clipboard in hand, checking off things to do. Together, sequences such as this made the film seem overly long to me.

As for your starting out with a writer, I may be wrong, but I thought on your website at the beginnings, you listed a composer and a writer, or maybe an editor whom I thought was working on a script, a fellow who had received acclaim for a film of his shown on PBS.

I hope you achieve great success with the film, an obvious labor of love, and pull in great reviews. Keep in mind that a review is only one person’s opinion. And, trust me, I am not the Hollywood Reporter.

Philip Weyland said...


Thanks for the reply.

My comments were provided to correct what I felt were a couple of inaccuracies stated in your review of the film. Always interested in anyone's opinion regarding the film. I find that the level of knowledge of trapeze certainly affects opinions of the film. My intent was to create a film that would engage a general audience and offer a humanistic POV of trapeze performers and their lives - centered around a great trapeze flyer.

I contemplated narrating the film. I discarded that idea fairly early on in favor of Miguel providing on-camera transitions.

You are correct that at the start of filming there were mentions on the website of an editor, cameraman and a talented musical group that was tentatively considered to produce the music. I quickly discovered that as a result of my personal concepts of the film, it would be best if I handled the actual editing and most of the camera work. Time, artistic preferences and funding were all considerations in this decision.

During the editing process, I was ably assisted in the technical aspects of inserting music, dissolves, etc. by Jake Gorst. Jake offered many excellent suggestions during the editing process. Jake works out of New York and the editing process consisted of my editing segments and sending them to him via Vimeo. This was an extremely time-consuming process. As the desired deadline to complete the film approached, it became obvious that only way to finish the film in a reasonable time frame was to engage someone here in the LA area (where I live) and then work side by side with this person to implement my edits quickly. A fellow by the name of Brian Kotowski was engaged to assist in completing the film during the last year of production. There was never a mention of a writer on the website.

Now - the sequences filmed at Cirque and Le Reve. In both sequences, I felt it vital to show what the Vazquez brothers do present day at these venues. I felt it was imperative that I depict the great measures of safety that are implemented at these shows. During the brief clips involving the guys checking their respective safety inspections, the audience is given rare views of the backstage areas of both shows. Additional sequences involving rehearsals of Cirque's "Flying Men" (not trapeze") and Le Reve practice rescues in the event of equipment malfunction high, high over the arena. Permission to film at Cirque took over two years and I'm pleased with what was filmed.

I very much enjoyed making the film. It was a great privilege to meet and have the opportunity to interview some of the greats of circus and circus history experts like yourself.

Phil Weyland

Harry Kingston said...

Hi David,
I always your comments and keep them coming.
If Walker is fussing at that little amount of money being fined how do you put a price on two wrongful deaths.
I bet that family has a law suit in the millions for that.
In an interview on Cole Bros Johnny Pugh said if you get a local hurt you better move out of this country as they are going to get there pound of flesh.
I got to know Boom Boom Browning though the years through R H Bubba Voss who also was on the 1955 Ringling band as well as Beatty Cole.
I later years he was on indoor shows and could he play those drums.
He played to the end and I have a few of his tapes to hear what he sounded like and that is great circus music.
Harry in Texas