Saturday, April 25, 2015

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Cirque du Soleil in Limbo: What Drives -- and Bores -- Guy Laliberte, When the World is Not Enough?

Out on a cold dull day here in Oakland, on my walk about, thoughts of the Cirque King Guy Laliberte, and reasons why I no longer feel so connected to the man or his circus.
Personally, he insults me by the way he hands out "free water" to patrons. For years, in large bottles outside the tent, free water and cups.  That was fine and decent.  Classy.

And then for years, they were swimming in money, and the bottles disappeared.  Go pay two bucks or more for a bottle of spring water, from the "One Drop" man who made a big thing about wanting to preserve the planet's water for those in need -- and I guess for himself, to sell it off to captive customers.

Now, the large bottles have returned.  Free water!  But, good grief, no cups.  To buy one -- you gotta pay one dollar. How desperate can they get?

Artistically, of the last three shows, the first two left me naggingly unmoved. Mediocre.  Humdrum.  Too much same old same old.  The last one, Kurios, said to be a return to their "roots," was really just more special effects and fewer top class acts, although well redeemed after intermission.

Thirty one years is a good record. Mr. Guy, who just sold all but 10% of his interest in the company, already will go down as one of the greatest circus impresarios ever.  Another great 20th century big top mover and shaker sold out after thirty years -- John Ringling North.  But the latter left when his circus was back on top, following a break-out 1965 opus with an invasion of acts from behind the Iron Curtain, bringing fresh blood to the rings, raves to the reviews --- NY to LA, putting more bodies in the seats. And JRN was not lusting after new markets to conquer. He had tired in the Old World and failed.

Laliberte's operation is hurting, and now, still at the helm, he wants to finally somehow someway conquer the Chinese.  He's already tried.  Not sure he understands how or why it did not work.

Leaving the tent after taking in Kurios (3 stars) last December in  SF, I fairly floated.  It was the vibrantly compelling second half that put me back in the "fan" category.  But, still, not enough.  Know something?  I had to concentrate too hard to understand all the clever little lighting effects and various other goings-on around a pole, over there in the audience, through a hole in the tent, up up up  see, can you believe it?  Pay attention! ... When should going to a circus be a workout? 

I never thought that Cirque du Soleil, so brilliant at first, would last beyond a few years, thinking it would soon become a caricature of itself and fade.  Remarkably, it did incredible things.  For a time, it could do no wrong. Laliberte was a marketing genius.

The future feels already sinking deeper into limbo.  Circuses are NOT operated by corporations. And if the Cirque King stays, trouble is, he seems bored without new markets to conquer.  And I fear that he already has run out of new markets to conquer.   Mars?  Pluto?

If only he could accept the world as it is.

first posted 4.25.15

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Smell of Circus Inside a Book: Authentic Pachyderm Poo for the Critic Who Wanted More ...

Since my papers and interview tapes, as well as photographs from here to Russia and China, will be going into the Museum of Performance and Design in San Francisco later this year, I have been
going through my "archives" to make copies of things I may need when I write a book about the adventures of writing my books and then dealing (short of going nuts) with publishers.

The Smell Edition, my idea,  responded to book reviewer Allen Grasso, who complained in the Santa Cruz (CA)  Sentinel that my tome failed to convey the scents the smells of circus.  I prepared on my own a press release with photo of the cover and sent it out to 300 newspapers around the country. It made me laugh just doing it.  It did not make the publisher laugh.  The publicist reverted to addressing me by my last name rather than "Dearest David" (OK, Dear David).

Certified pachyderm poo off the Carson & Barnes lot!   Ted Bowman signed off, exempting all parties of liability.

Not to be outdone, Ringling-Barnum included, as well, sawdust and "mile high building dirt."

These scintillating samples of earthly material found on real circus lots were personally packaged by myself into a sample, and sent to Mr. Grasso at the Sentinel, with an inscription wishing him a more authentic read.

I then apprised my PR contact at A.S. Barnes in San Diego of the prank -- after the fact, knowing that to have asked for their cooperation permission before would have put an early end to the stunt.

Sometimes, you need to take matters into your own hands.

My caper made it into a few California columns; if other newspapers picked it up, the publisher did not favor their problem author with tear sheets; in fact, they favored me with none.  The sampler package itself never reached the reviewer; it got only as far as a Sentinel librarian, and she, in reaction to, refrained from returning the offense to my publisher but removed it from the premises immediately, stating, "the smell would more than likely clear out your office.

She called my action "childishly indignant."  Okay.  I can work with that.

Behind the Big Top was generally greeted with glowing notices, sold out its first print run in less than two years, but they did not take it back to press.  Oak Tree publications in San Diego, which specialized in children's books and which had purchased NJ-based A.S. Barnes the year before, would not last very long. 

Perhaps too many of their kiddy books lacked that certain authenticity.  

They All Like to Fly, Not I

There I am, on a perfectly delightful San Francisco afternoon, with niece Lisa, right, my sister Kathy (both from Luray, VA), and my other niece Debbie (in from Phoenix), last Sunday,outside the Cliff House.

How much the weather reminded me of being raised down the street in the park, in the windmill tender's house.  Of being serenaded, day after day, by the roaring gloom of the ocean forever rushing to reach the mean grey icy cold sand.  We are not in Santa Monica!

We had a great time, nonetheless.  All of the "girls" love to travel, and in the air.  Lisa was a flight attendant.  Debbie has worked for years booking travel for American Express members, and Kathy once, while a resident of South Pasadena, was employed by Sigmund Travel.

Even my mother, bless her fearless heart, once harbored fragile dreams of piloting an airplane.

So how did I end up so grounded?  Blame it on a few bad flights, and leave it at that. But with my vow not to ride Amtrak across the country anymore, I may have to fly again,  Or take the bus.  Or roller skate.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cirque du Soleil is SOLD ... Guy Laliberte Self-Liberates for Personal Freedom and Family ... China Market Remains the Goal

From CirqCharlie Rivel, dated today:

Cirque du Soleil confirmed its sale to a group of international investors led by US firm TPG, for an undisclosed but is estimated at 1,500 million. Although the details of the transaction are not public, sources close to the institution forward last week Efe-Dow Jones TPG will become the majority shareholder of Cirque du Soleil, while Chinese investment group Fosun and Canadian financial institution Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec have minority stakes. Furthermore, current majority owner of Cirque du Soleil and one of its founders, Guy Laliberté, will retain a minority stake "and continue to provide a strategic and creative contribution to the company," according to a statement released by Cirque du Soleil statement. "After 30 years building the brand of Cirque du Soleil, we have found the right partner at TPG, Fosun and Caisse to bring the Cirque du Soleil towards its next stage in its evolution as a company created with the belief that the arts and business can, together contribute to making the world better, "Laliberte said in the statement. For his part, David Trujillo, a partner at TPG, said that the firm is "excited about the opportunity" to use its global platform of resources and expertise "to propel growth worldwide in the particular brand, content and capabilities Circus ".

Guy Laliberte speaks:

I watched a three minute video, connected to the release, (interrupted by commercials, a current problem on my PC).  Laliberte was very animated and passionate, stressing that he wants to be with and focus on his kids, to help them each reach their passion.

Sounds like they are not up for following him, and he feels emotionally burned out, or irrelevant to his own operation.  He even hinted at maybe someday wanting to buy it back.

He seemed very forthcoming, perhaps more openly expressive than he has ever been. 

My gut feeling is that he may feel a sense of not knowing where to go with the show, that its future is beyond his control and grasp, and decided it would be better to get out  now.

Although, he retains, it appears, a leading position as planner.

He told another source, the Financial Post:  “In all consciousness and with a rigorous personal reflection and corporate reflection, I believe I am making the best decision for Cirque du Soleil and its future, and the best decision for myself and my family.”


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Today is WORLD CIRCUS DAY! How About a Movie Tonight?

Here are my favorites, not necessarily in this order, except for my top pick

Beyond being a "circus" movie, Trapeze is a great drama, combing a torrid love triangle with one trapeze flyer's quest to master the triple.  Set in Paris, famed circus talent scout John Ringling North checks in now and then, ready to sign the flyer to a contract once he proves he can do it.

Yes, The Greatest Show on Earth Of course, it has to be here, it offers too much of a circus to ignore.   And too much (two and a half hours) to sit through; I would like to hire an editor and cut out the most boring parts and end up with my own greatest show on earth.  First to go would be most of the train wreck, which IS a train wreck, sucking up the film's waning momentum and my patience.  Yes, the best moments are dazzling, thrilling, memorable, all that.  But the more I watch De Mille's lumbering epic, which thrilled me like no other film in my boyhood, the more difficult it is to watch. 

Toby Tyler is warm and touching story, a wonderful movie.

I once called Ring of Fear "Ring of Drek," but, I've grown accustomed to its modestly enduring appeal, smartly contained in a tight 1 hour and 33 minutes, a full hour less than De Mille's bloated elephant.  Ring has likable characters (the Mexican guy, the older fellow with the drinking problem, Clyde Beatty himself, the lovely helpless heroine), a few good circus  acts, the wagons coming off the train at dawn, a haunting musical theme -- and that monster maniac who gets it in the end, getting locked up inside a box car with a loose lion!  Go, lion, go!  (or is it tiger?)

Spangles.  There are many reasons to love this 1926 silent classic. At the top of the list, authentic big top atmosphere -- or so it appears..  And you'll have to rent it to find out for yourself.  You can read my complete review by typing "spangles" in the blogger search box, above, left.

A wondrous cinematic gift from Fellini, The Clowns.  Very hard to find.

About Fellini's La Strada

My original posting included this dramatic masterpiece about itinerant circus and carnival performers.  I hadn't seen it in years, and said I was going to see it again.  I have, and I can't really regard it as a circus film.  Brief bits of a few circus acts hardly take us into the world of circus. 

Big Top Pee Wee is a joyful romp --  entrancing, whimsical, one of the most touching circus flicks ever made. 

Circo, more a documentary, captures the spare beauty of a profitless passion.  The film follows a typical Mexican family circus struggling to stay on the road. A soft ringing authenticity
Now, for some lowdown trashy fun, you might invite either or both of these odd ball flicks into your home on a listless night in need of a little tacky shock-cinema relief

So there they are.  Pick one or two, turn your damn dumb phone off, and bring on the dark.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Morning, Hopelessly Hollywood: Collaborating at College with a Composer Destined to Make Movieland History

During my senior year at San Francisco State College, while preparing to produce and direct the annual student revue, Kampus Kapers, one of the respondents to my call for original songs was a very young Shirley Rogers. All of 20 years.  So talented was she, that she ended up not only setting the lyrics of others to music, but also orchestrating the entire score and composing a haunting ballet of modern symphonic depth, Market Street. 

She was eager and polite, very efficiently organized, all business-like.  . 

Here, from my book, Hopelessly Hollywood:

Shirley Rogers was also the first person to score a lyric of mine; what a day to remember when we adjourned into a small piano practice room and she played the music she had written for the song that would open the show.  The notes were thrillingly strange, taking my words in a direction I’d never imagined when I first drafted them to my own dummy melody:

                        Kick up the Kapers again!
                        Stick out your hearts
                        Stir up a fuss
                       This is the show that is us!

The verse may read, yes, corny, but Shirley’s sophisticated setting, full of subtle modulations on a forceful ascent, was anything but.

 Whatever in the world happened to her?

In the years ahead, four members from the Kapers cast would reach Broadway stages.  As for Shirley Rogers, I had hoped to write a musical about the Ringling brothers, believing that she would be the ideal composer, but my reaching out to her was not returned.  My student revue had been a step in her career, and she was onto a step higher than that.  Much higher. Whatever happened to her, however, became a mystery for me, lasting many years.  My friend Mike, of Kapers days, only knew that she was composing music for industrial films. Now and then I would google "Shirley Rogers" and come up with nothing.

A few years ago, by sheer serendipity, I discovered that Shirley Rogers had become one of the first female composers to earn solo score credit on a major Hollywood motion picture.  And while she did not achieve populist fame, she was highly respected and revered within the industry.  Prolifically active, she scored and/or conducted music for TV and film, much of it at Warner Brothers.

Why had I been unable to find anything about Shirley Rogers?  Because, when she married, she took the name of her husband and became Shirley Walker. 

 She died, following a stroke, in 2006.

What a talent. What a day in that small piano practice room, when, for the first time, I heard somebody else's music to my verse.

                        Gosh, but the feeling was strong
                        We were on edge moments ago,
                        Now we are bursting to go!

Charlie Berliner, left, a member of the cast, and the director.  They always love you before the show opens!