Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun, Or So It Seems ...

Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun,  Or So It Seems ...
Kijome Hara with the World’s Smallest Man and Wini McCay

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On Italian Film: They Who Make the Greatest Show of Love May Suffer its Slings the Most

Scenes from Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Awentura

He loves his wife, not the woman here -- she also loves his wife (maybe) and then slides into an affair with him.  All the while, they and others are searching for Anna, his missing wife who craves a freedom away from a marriage that she concedes she can not live without.

Who but the Italians?   Who better then they, the world's most celebrated lovers, to understand the crushing limitations of what E.M. Forster in his book A Passage to India dismisses as "carnal embracement."  .

Antonioni's films (my favorite is The Passenger, reviewed here elsewhere) cast the human figure in  sweeping landscapes.  Perhaps he views humanity as forever doomed to a shared loneliness. The director shuns musical soundtracks, favoring the sounds of life. 

Claudia, like all the others in her party, is out looking for Anna, who drifted away during their visit to an island on a Mediterranean boating trip.

In a way, they are all alone, always searching for something.  Perhaps this is a constant that haunts the human condition.  In my view, Antonioni is one of a few directors to prove that cinema is as great an art form as any other.  Oh, those Italians.

The ones here are rich and blase. Not uncommon for a young Italian male to be taken to a brothel (up to half of them) to be introduced to the mechanics of it all.  No wonder they seem fixated on the fleeting heat of an affair.

Young love on the brink.  We know he will have her.  She knows he will have her.  They have already passed the point of no return.

This great 1960 film was hailed by critics for bringing a new language to cinema.  Sandro, unable to find Anna,  sinks into an affair with Claudia, and soon after goes out on her, unable to break free of an endless cycle of sexual conquest.  When Claudia discovers him with a tart, he is left a devastated and pitiful man.  It is all a part of the cycle.

Sandro returns to Claudia.  And she will take him back.

How savvy that the Italians, who make such a swaggering spectacle of love, should also be the ones to show how desolate are the spaces of time and desertion between and around it.  Like The Passenger, this film feels more like a lived-through experience than a movie.  

Doomed, at least together.   

Friday, February 12, 2016

On the Big Scary Screen: "The Fly" Still Delivers Shivers and Quivers

A great old sci-fi  flick, made in 1958, seems closer today than it did then to where our insane addictions to e-Gadgets are taking us.  Is your cell phone acting strange?  Beware.

The atoms of an ambitious scientist become tragically entangled with those of a fly during one of his experiments in transmitting matter through space.  It all happens in the man's basement.  Flashing contraptions buzz and roar and rattle into operation.  Test objects are placed into one glass box and transported to another across the room.
It makes for a fairly gripping story when the scientist's wife finally comes face to face with an unexpected outcome. 

Some may laugh.  Some may tremble over the spectacle of an insect ending up in one of the test transmissions.    The insect may have welcomed the result.  The scientist did not.  And the wife is left to deal with it. Terror to assisted suicide.

In its appetite for dramatizing the horrors of technology gone amok, Hollywood sometimes performs value public service warnings.  Add this one to your checklist.

Oh, sweet mystery of love! We kiss in a nightmare!

(A more recent Hollywood warning came through in Her, about a man falling in love with an operating system -- until she dumps him for another caller.)

The wife's botched up husband begs her to kill the freak fly that he has become. 

The film's message: "The search for truth is the most important work in the world -- and the most dangerous."

And if I were you, I'd be sure I know what I'm opening up when the next drone arrives at my door -- or at my security-enhanced, people-free, animal-free, all-virtual cell.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Center Ring Rumors, Rants and Rackets: Wedding Bells in the Big Cage for Chipperfield-Frisco? ... NY Salutes More Circus Snobs ... Viet Big Top on the Ropes ... SF Circus School for Dabblers Outed ... Are Reviews Worth Reading? Ask Bette Davis ...

A Whip-Cracking Romance Across the Big Pond: Comes giggly gossip linking circus royalty Over There to the infamous elephant abuse YouTube Frisco line Over Here.   Tiger trainer, Felicia Frisco, who seems never to link herself to either Tim or Joe, said to be cooing and wooing with England’s revered Thomas Chipperfield.

Pipes Douglas McPherson from London Town, a Showbiz David exclusive (I think), a picture of tiger trainers Thomas and Felicia “cosying up  during her current visit to the UK has got their Facebook friends practically booking the church!”  Or, better yet, maybe a ring cage for two?  Lovely couple, I’ll grant them that.
Face Book Romance.   “Apparently,” speculates discretely delighted Douglas, before they finally met face to face last month at the UK Circus Reunion, they enjoyed “a long telephone friendship/romance.”  

Just one of those fast flings?  Hold that tiger!  An update from McPherson points to a thrill lingering on:   Now separated by the Atlantic once again, continuing Facebook posts by the two “suggest it’s the Real Thing”

Wonders our foreign correspondent, “which of these trainers will be the one who cracks the whip!”

Hanoi hosted a circus festival in 2012
Below: My Village Circus, 2009

Cracking on: Did you know of a major government funded circus in Vietnam?  News to me.  But now, reports  the Wall Street Journal, story fed my way by Ken Dickinson, government is cutting support by one third. and down to nothing come 2019.  Ouch!  Company director, part time clown named Ta Duy Anh, vowing to fight on, opting to reinvent the show around lines of Cirque du Soleil. Good luck on that.  Having watched a little Vietnamese TV lately, seems that this very non-Communistic-acting country looks closer in its cultural aspirations to the US than to any other Asian nation.

Snobbish: Second Annual American Circus Awards, produced by NOW and Big Apple Circus, again honored a small little elitist group of familiar people under the Big Apple tent.  Didn’t I read of some of those names being previously pedestalled? Maybe they take turns, rotating through the four main categories — Community Impact, Elevating Circus, Evolving Circus, Lifetime Achievement.  And why am I so not impressed?  Somebody should tell these Evolving Eggheads and Impact adjudicators that there are other circuses out there worth considering.  Has anybody heard the named Ringling? Cole?  Kelly Miller?

What Really for is the San Francisco Circus School?  Not very much, I have long suspected.  A most interesting interview on the website, The Widow Station, the work of the elusive Liz Arratoon,  circus writer and critic, previously with London's  The Stage. I enjoyed her sharp Monte Carlo Circus Festival critiques.  Having once or twice tried to reach Ms. Aarratoon, I was left wondering if my brain lacks a gene necessary for astral communication.  She is somewhere out there, cosmically I assume.

But out there, another Arratoon, Adrian, spoke to Montreal-born Monagasque Nicolas Jelmoni, who has enjoyed a career between circus and cabaret and theatre (Pippin).  He was asked by Adrian:  Why did you go to the San Francisco Circus Center rather than to somewhere in France?  I was ALL eyes! I sat up!

at the San Francisco Circus Center

Replied Nicholas, his parents pushed him there.  “It was really fun ... I’d never done circus and I was wondering whether I would like it or not.

Two years in San Francisco striving to stay focused among his dabbling peers, Nicholas  managed to get accepted into Montreal, and into a much more stimulating atmosphere.  Listen here, NOW!   “It was love at first sight.  I’m going to be great there ... It was different in San Francisco where I felt I was the only one who was trying to push and to get a lot better.” 

The only one?  I am not surprised.  

What do you think of real reviews?  Ask Bette!  On The Tonight Show, now running in replays, Johnny Carson had Bette Davis on, and he asked her what she thought of reviews.  Some Celebes will claim never to read them. Others will bash the critics .  So what did our outrageously egoistic movie star have to say? 

“You need the pros and you need the cons,” she answered, impressively.  And then she said something to the effect, "Lord knows, I have gotten more cons than pros.”  Good for her.  My friend Boyi Yuan, when once I told him of something I had created that, tested on a few others, got  feedback that wasn't very good, said, "That’s the best feedback.”  Right he was – the only way to learn and grow.  

End Ringers: Carson and Barnes will not be coming to California this year.  I know because I asked them, and I’m guessing they won’t be coming my way any time soon, not as long as they parade their elephants.  A pity ... The Tito Gaona flick, The Flight Fantastic, pulled a rather grudging review from the Hollywood Reporter. “Distracted by tangents that add little to its core story, the film will play best with hard-core circomaniacs and at performance-centric fests like this one.”  Once these things are subjected to a mainstream audience, their luster can fade fast.  I do hope to see the film, however.

Let’s hope for a Frisco-Chipperfield wedding over sawdust.  As if it will garner much attention.  Thomas has a spotless record in the big cage.  As for Felicia, little wonder that she appears to avoid naming relatives.  From what I gather, she is yet to make it — or break it — on You Tube.  

First posted 2.19.16

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Why Can't Circus Fans Talk More Like Sports Fans? Follow Their Silence into the Backyard

How odd that I, not a sports fan, should be drawn to sports talk shows. 

Why?  I love hearing host and callers debating issues. And rarely without calling each other moron or Hitler sympathizer – as so often happens on your typical mud-slinging right-wing or left-wing take all talk show.

If only circus fans could carry on in like manner.  Most of them — you too? — would rather, it seems, spend a weekend deep sea diving over the Bermuda Triangle than dare issue an opinion in public. Such as: what did you really think of that circus?  That act?  That show owner’s decision to (fill in the blanks).  Such as, do you turn off your brains the moment you hit the midway?

Full disclosure.  Living here in Oakland, I couldn’t care less about the Oakland Traitors wanting to shuttle their booze and  brawn back to LA, the Warriors angling to head for hoops over in Playground-for-the Rich San Francisco, or even the Oakland A’s, of whom I — my one token nod to sports — am a fair weather fan, staging more mediocre Billy Bean-dead seasons in some other town’s field of dreams.

So I have little reason to listen to sports talk shows, except that, of all talk shows, sports fans display the greatest talent for engaging in lively debate without going ballistic.  They possess great passion and they take chances. 

Why can’t circus fans take chances?

It happens in all other venues.  I exchange views on theatre, cinema, TV and music with friends who share those interests.  We may have sharply differing views, but we can learn from each other, and the open conversation can itself be a great pleasure.   

But why not the big top buff?  Here’s the biggest reason why.  Call it the backyard seduction.  Many fans would rather spend time in the backyard hobnobbing with circus folk than actually sitting in a seat and watching the show.   And because the fans are allowed such intimate social access, naturally they form friendships. And wanting to preserve those friendships, they naturally refrain from sharing in public or in print what they really think about any performer or any show owner, etc. Makes sense?

Think it out: In what other form of entertainment are patrons allowed such extraordinary direct association with the artist?  Can you imagine yourself inside a theatre walking backstage during a performance and speaking with the actors while they are waiting in the wings between scenes?   Or freely hanging out on the set of a TV show being filmed?   That's what you are virtually able to do at many circuses.

There is a reason why your are pampered behind the scenes. Down through the years, circuses — in essence, gypsy companies — have needed to foster beneficial relationships with towners as insurance against times of liability and distress.  Who better to speak for the circus than a local attorney or doctor or hardware store owner?  The CFA (Circus Fans Association of America) was there in many cities to provide moral support, as well.  Two of its founding slogans were "we pay as we go" and "we fight anything that fights the circus."  Little wonder it would shun critical reviews.

Were this not so, were you barred from such extensive social contact, can you imagine how easier it would be to participate in a radio talk show discussion of such matters as:

Should clowns wear less makeup?

Does PETA have a good case based on the barbaric Tim Frisco elephant training You Tube?

Should the Felds have retired the elephants?

Miguel or Tito?

Bello Nock got a Gold Clown at Monte Carlo.  Grandma, only a Silver.  Fair?

How do today’s flyers using multiple riggings and action compare to the older style flying return act?

Is Cirque du Soleil a circus?

When Kenneth Feld is gone from the picture, what are the chances that his daughter(s) can keep the show successfully on the road?

How much to blame are the Shrine temples for degrading the image of circus art by serving as their own clowns and by the obscenely long concession-stuffed intermissions they allow?

How much was Kenneth Feld himself to blame for events forcing him to retire the elephants?  Let me know what you think after we return from a brief commercial break!

Yes, I know, you’re not going on record.  And I understand why the shows you see will not likely be as good as your "reviews" of them sent off to White Tops or Circus Report -- as long as they pamper you back of the big top. I understand this because I value friendship and a friend is someone' whose aspirations you support rather than debate or critique in the public sphere. 

And may all your days be backyard days!

(Photos by Sverre Braathen: Top image: fans in the Cole Bros. Circus backyard, 1941; Clown Otto Griebling with fans, Cole 1947;  CFA members during the 1933 convention in Baraboo: Walter Hohenadel, White Tops editor, is third from right.  From The Milner, Special Collections, Illinois State University)

first posted February 7, 2016