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

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Step Right Up, This Way to the Big Book! ... Big Top Typewritter Recalls Last Great Days of AmerIcan Circus! ...

from 5.18.17
 
THIS WAY TO THE GLORY THAT WAS!

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 "CIRCUS FANS WILL BE THRILLED TO HEAR ABOUT CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE RINGLING KIND [AS]  THE AUTHOR CELEBRATES THE INDUSTRY'S ACHIEVEMENTS IN PAGES STUDDED WITH REPRODUCTIONS OF POSTERS AND PICTURES OF FAMOUS CIRCUS ACTS ... HIS REVERENCE FOR THE CIRCUS SHOWS ITSELF IN ECSTATIC, OFTEN NOSTALGIC, DESCRIPTIONS OF MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES, AS WHEN HE LONGS TO 'RELIVE THE GLORIOUS AFTERNOON IN 1961 UNDER THE CLYDE BEATTY-COLE BROS. BIG TOP AT RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, WHEN BOOM BOOM BROWNING LEAD THE BAND WITH A JAZZY TINGLE.'... THE CHAPTERS THAT FULFILL THE PROMISE OF THE SUBTITLE SHINE."

 -- Publishers Weekly


THIS WAY TO BIG TOP TALES OF YORE 


ON THE INSIDE, SEE GREAT MOMENTS IN CIRCUS HISTORY ON OUR LIVING PLATFORMS!
SEE FRANCIS BRUNN TAKE ON THE  GREAT RASTELLI IN A JUGGLING SHOWDOWN!   
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 BEHOLD SID KELLNER BLOWING HIS TOP UNDER THE BIG TOP!
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"COMPELLING ... IMMENSELY PERSONABLE ... A THRILLING ROLLER COASTER RIDE THROUGH HIS CAREER AS A WRITER ... BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK AT THE WORKINGS OF THE CIRCUS INDUSTRY AND THE AUTHOR'S ENCOUNTERS WITH ITS STARS AND SHOWMEN.  A BREEZY PAGE TURNER."
Blasting News




"ENTICING ... INTRIGUING ... PROVOCATIVE ...  ALL, HOWEVER, SHOULD READ BIG TOP TYPEWRITER --- LIKELY A WINNER AS A CONTRIBUTION TO CONTEMPORARY CIRCUS LITERATURE"  
--Herb Ueckert, The Circus Report


"HERE IS A BOOK THAT HITS ALL MY BUTTONS ... THERE IS A CHARISMA TO HAMMARSTROM'S WRITING THAT KEEPS ME WITH HIM ... A UNIQUE TAKE ON CIRCUS AUTOBIOGRAPHY ... HIGHLY ENJOYABLE"  
—  Katharine Kavanagh, Circus Diaries, UK

 


"EYE OPENING ... AMUSING ... ANYTHING BUT YOUR STAID CIRCUS STORY ...   HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR READERS WHO LIKE CIRCUS EXPOSES."
  — Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review


“WORTH A READ FOR THE ENTERTAINMENT VALUE ALONE!”
 Amazon consumer review

This way to the Big Book! ... This Way to the Big Book! ...



"A BOOK WITH GLUE ON THE COVER ... I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN!”
Douglas McPherson, Circus Mania


"LIKE A GOOD PERFORMANCE, IT ZIPS ALONG AT A GOOD PACE.” 
-- James Royal, American and European circus manager


Hurry!  Hurry!  Only $16.99 in paperback! $2.99 in Kindle!

Originally posted 5.18.17 

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Death of James Bond, Belatedly Noted. Daniel Craig is No 007 ... And Yes, His Films Have Set Records ... So What ...

I remember seeing an early Daniel Craig 007, Skyfall I think, and was so turned off by his lifeless character and the Hollywood scripting, that I gave up on the film long before it gave up on me. With the release in October of the final Craig and the final Bond flick, No Time To Die, I looked up lists of the best Bond films, to find that many consider Craig  to be by far the best Bond ever. Are they kidding? 

So I took another  look at Skyfall, this time forcing myself to set out the entire ordeal, and here is my  review:

Cold and gloomy, morose and leaden, the central character a faceless muscular void. Remember the humor, even the charm of the Bond films? Remember some scenes filmed in actual sunlight? This one is drenched in darkness. Remember how fun they could be? This is a Hollywood exploitation movie, tediously overwrought in gunfire, and here 007 dares never to crack a smile. As for the woman thing, he comes off looking frigid -- as if he has been lobotomized to prepare for the killing target ahead. And he is being called the best Bond ever? Am I insane? Judy Dench manages to get in a little philosophy a la shades of Mrs. Henderson Presents and the Exotic Marigold Hotels. The lunatic is the most interesting character of the lot, and it takes forever to run him back into the slime that renders Scotland a dismal wasteland of lost souls. i struggled to hold on, just to see how this turkey would finally be wrapped. I will not go near another Craig as Bond, for he could not be farther from the character. Any of the others are a joy to watch. You can have your Sam Mendez. I'll take a real James Bond. 

END

And then I watched Timothy Dalton in Living Daylights, and Pearce  Bronson in Tomorrow Never Dies and was reassured to have Bond back. 

P.S. I looked up the reviews on Rotten -- an impressive 85%.  Among the few dissenters, Rex Reed bombed it and the franchise in recent years. Good going, Rex!

Friday, December 17, 2021

Before Oz: Remembering the Seven Ashtons and Other Great Circus Stars from Aussie-Land

Need I drop the names of landmark stars such as Con or Winnie Colleano?  He on the low wire, she on the single trap.  Or how about, oh say, only the very first flyer ever to turn the quad?  That would be Russian diva Lena Jordan.  Yes, a woman. Yes, Down Under.  For a feat that extraordinary, the setting should thereafter hold credit for the sacred act.  

You can see the Seven compelling Ashtons on a You Tube I just came upon.  I marveled at the pace and zip of he act, of the interesting exploits in a flow of action, and of the great cutting-up of one or two of the younger set.  Snazzy posturing for the fun of it.  Props and People continuously in motion, and we of a certain class want our circuses continually in motion right?

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmCaHe8zAO0

As well, the band scored them spot on.  These acts remind me of the primal appeal of true circus, un-burdened  or watered down by the imposition of "theme" or "character arc". Here, the family are the characters, and what a singular joy they are to watch at work.   

Australia could well claim its own share of ring stars.  A far cry from the experimentally rich, if tame in that vein Circus Oz.  It has now gone under, Down Under, massively in debt, and yet  refusing the control of others in order to quality for additional government funding. 

I first saw the marvelous Ashtons on the Polack show in the 1950s

Enjoy-- and Believe!

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Cosest Thing to a Real Review of Big Apple Circus ... This One is Unanced ...

 Will the real Anonymous please rise?

Yes, those with the most to say seem the least able to identify themselves. A sad commentary on the dearth of open conversation among circus fans and pros.  And I will say no more at this time on the matter.  This comment, posted at the end of my next posting, is too good not to give center ring attention to.

So I am calling this, far as I know, the first validly fair and objective review of what Nik Wallenda is up to at the Lincoln Center that seems to have shunned.

 TO QUOTE EXACTLY WHAT ANONYMOUS POSTED:

I have to agree with a lot of the previous review. Although there are some stellar solo and duo acts, the show is ONLY solo and duo acts apart from the wire act, which is made extremely cringe-worthy by Nik's several interruptions to show video and speak on mic to the audience. It's as if he didn't want any bigger group acts to upstage his wire act, which is regrettably stale and much smaller than we have seen from him in the past.

It's all made worse by the suspicion that he is doing nothing but alienating his neighbors in Lincoln Center by his Page Six video, hollering about discrimination and unfairness, when it's now obvious that he turned a mistake into a tasteless publicity stunt. His claims that Lincoln Center has been "our home" for so many years ring hollow coming from the man who only bought the company this year.

Seeing t-shirts for sale in concessions with his face on them really drive home the fact that this is the Nik Wallenda show, not the Big Apple Circus.

END OF QUOTE

Thanks, A Whomever You Are!

Friday, December 10, 2021

Where Are They Now? .... Pulse Check of the Midways ...

UPDATE, 12-11 -- Two contributors posting comments, below,  offer rich insights into Big Apple history and the current show.  You read it here.   Others are encouraged to add their comments.

 Some snippets out there ...

Paul Binder!  At last, a Paul Binder sighting on his Facebook, with ... drum roll! ... Yes, the great Tito Tito! (last name, Gaona)  Paul's lively book about sea lions, the weather and his Big Apple Circus days coming out soon in audio, to the voice of Glen Close.  A big coup, Paul!  Where have you been?


 Some happy  fans at  Culpepper & Merriweather midway.  Looks like you had a good time!

The Zoppe Family circus is now until end of month in Redwood City, CA ... too unreachable by public transit for me. Go, Zoppe, Go!
 

 Ringmaster Venardos and his charming little circus.   This one would wow the one-ring heart of Big John Strong.

Royal Hanneford swinging through November. Boy, does that look fun!


Arms up at UniverSoul

Circus Vargas, still on the road, so I'm hoping they return soon to the Bay Area.

 Nik's Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center.  Little media evidence -- so far.  

So, we ain't doing so bad, you'd agree?

 11.22.21

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

A Big Top Book Unlike Any Other: Paul Binder Teases With a Winning Big Apple Circus Sampler. Now in Audio!

As first reviewed here, July 14, 2014.  The audio is narrated by Max Samuels and Glenn Close.


The title may be too clever for it's own good, but Paul Binder’s new book,  Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion, is easy and fun to read, a charmer, filled with anecdotes about his years in and around the Big Apple Circus that he and Michael Christensen founded in 1977.

It is noting like I expected, although I don’t know what I expected, come to think of it, other than it would not tell us much about company conflicts, about Binder’s views of other circuses.  The book does, however, dish a little inside dirt (and pachyderm poo), some of which the author may live to regret.

Best of all, and rather surprising considering that Binder is possibly the most intellectually inclined circus producer in American history, the book is not a plodding polemic or an “academic,” to its redemptive credit.  So, those seeking a gender-bending study of how circus “reflects” the changing socio-economic-astrological-digital shifts in society will be just as let down as will the fans who count wagon wheels, tent poles, stringers, jacks and elephants.  Especially the latter. For several seasons, New York’s own circus has stuck with house-friendly critters, like horses and dogs, and the occasional tent-crashing skunk.

Here, Binder is a charming host, and here he does not drop the word “retirement.”  In the end, a third- person account states that he  “stepped out of the ring.”   I believe he did not want to retire, that he was gently, if not firmly, shown a way to make happy in the backyard and continue helping to raise money. 

How to talk about or  review this book? The best and fairest thing to do, it seemed, would be to go with questions raised by what appears on the printed page, rather than, for example, comparing what I find here with what  the author told me during a generous interview several years ago.

He jumps back and forth like an acrobat, and so there are holes in the narrative, some gaping and, one could argue, negligent.  Such as this:  Binder’s early account of how he set up the New York School for Circus Arts, which itself would present the circus, does not cover what became of that short-lived school. When I saw the show in 1978,  I was swept up by its youthful energy and creative spirit.  Some of the acts, as I recall, were developed at the school. Nothing from the ringmaster on its early demise.  I told you not to expect scholarship.

 Old World tested and certified:  Binder, left, and Michael Christensen, who honed their juggling on street corners in Europe, before returning to New York to found the Big Apple Circus in 1977.  Seen between them are Russian clowns Nina Krasavina  and Greory Fedin.  Binder also appears above, as the show's ringmaster.

 In its youthfully ambitious beginning, when the New York School for Circus Arts was a dream: Students perform New York Charivari, in the 1978 show. 

Another amazing gap: After writing about how he and Christensen secured their first  tent, a lot, and funding support, nothing about the first show, the reception, reviews, or the circus school’s diminishing role.  In fact, from there, the narrative leaps forward by five years! 

To his credit, Binder allows us to view his intense temper, in particular, during a box stacking act by David Casey (Oaf)that should have stopped at failed box number 3, but would not, due to the performer’s dogged resolve, contrary to Binder’s cues, to keep going until he succeeded.  Cut to an ugly row backstage — some of it shockingly audible to audience members  —  resulting in what, for a moment, sounded and looked ominously violent.  (Casey alleges in an angry review of the book on Amazon, that Binder’s account is partly fabricated.)

 In its matriculating years, when the circus turned away from youth and presented world class acts, like the Carillo Bros on the high wire, in 1984

Another inexplicable omission is the name of a legendary flyer, only alluded to in this rousing passage:

“Fifteen hundred people stare upward, motionless, neither breathing nor thinking but believing there is no way that flyer can ever break out of four — four! — somersaults, find a catcher’s arms in the blink of an eye, grab them, and hang on.  But what happens in the next instant calls into question every assumption this crowd has made about how the world works: hands and forearms do meet; they clutch, grasp, and hold ...
    And the crowd goes wild.”  

Guess who he’s talking about?  Not Tito Gaona, whom he loved, as anybody would, and who gets prime coverage in Never Quote.   No, a guy named Miguel Vazquez, whose name appears no where in the text.  The slight is astonishing.

For me, by far the ringmaster’s most memorable prose describes the feeling of connection to the crowd that came over him when he and Michael stepped into a circus ring for the first time, to appear at Anna Fratalinies new circus in France.  Here is how he begins: 

“... what I felt when I entered the ring was nothing less than pure joy — not just a personal sense of satisfaction and pleasure, but something far more powerful and deeply primal: true, elemental ritual celebration ...”  

His mantra is a two-word descriptor, “classical circus.” But he spends little time defining what exactly this means.  Would the definition include aerialists hooked to lifelines?  Does Ringling present “classical?” circus?  Or how about bout UniverSoul, or Cirque du Soleil?  And if not, why?

Binder believes that he, and a few others his age,  reintroduced the one ring show to a American audiences. They did not.  That distinction goes to  Polack Bros. Circus, which, in 1935, opted for one wonderful ring, and presented, during its heyday years, some of the greatest “classical circus” acts in the world.  In my boyhood, I saw the great Francis Brunn with Polack that Paul Binder would announce in his  own show thirty years later.

On animals, Binder's thoughts about their moods, and about how the best trainers work around those moods, are quite interesting and may be helpful, may not be.  I was impressed.

On occasion, he takes more space than need be, when he recounts acute looks of displeasure on the faces of opera patrons, Lincoln Center bound, having to pass a circus area freshly scented with late-breaking elephant emissions. 

Final chapters bring on some high drama from the Middle Kingdom, with the arrival of the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe from China, resulting in one of its performers, Lanrong, wanting to defect, being locked up in a room by the troupe’s stern task master, Lu Yi (who now teaches circus arts in San Francisco), actually wanting free of  Yi rather than her country.  Here lies a tale made for a movie,  But, please,spare us the languid cameras of PBS.


Production soars in Pictureque, 2004, a near masterpiece.  That season, the Kovgar Troupe, from Russia, sent the show into orbit at finale.  

It’s a book you’ll be beguiled into meeting on its own randomly organized terms – part of its quirky charm.  Which gives it a rare easy-to-take effervescence.  The informally artful layout (short chapters, most headed with small sketch drawings, charming) is another asset.  Only are the poorly reproduced black and white photographs a drawback (and I thought some of mine in recent books were bad!) -- but who cares.  It's the writing that counts.

Binder’s mother never seemed sure about her son’s career choice.   He would call her up after another opening to share his enthusiasm, and she, per he, “asked hesitantly, almost as if she feared what the answer would be: “But ... Paul, ... are you ... are you happy?”

Perhaps more then than now.  Just after announcing  his retirement, the ringmaster told a TV reporter what a joy it was, every single day, to dress up in his costume and wait to go on. To face another ring. Another crowd.

You'll never read about this in Don't Quote the Weather.  A showman to the end, Paul Binder spares us a sad closing parade.


Act creator Paul Binder gave artistic birth to the clown Bello Nock, after watching him perform with his family on sway poles, and offering to help him create his own solo act. 
 
Originally posted, July 12, 2014

Sunday, December 05, 2021

The Morning Midway: Women Now Dominate in College and Other Fields -- And the Circus, Too? ...

On the news, woman outnumbering men in halls of higher learning by as much as 60 to 40%  ... Men being squeezed down to a softer breed, and some are retreating.  Shamed into defaulting down to the kind of work they are better endowed to do, and giving up on the old B/A degree.  

Situation so dire, that some colleges are actively trying to lure them back ----the very opposite of what it was thirty or forty years ago when the drive was tto get more girls on a career path. Do you remember "bring your daughter to work day"?

Might there now be a bring your son to work day?

The circus has been ridiculed and shamed too, off the lots by the culture of deconstruction.

Under the big tops in heydays gone by, women held their own in the rings, despite modern day feminism, rampantly alive in San Francisco, arguing blatant bias.  So little do they know or care to know about the real world of the circus.  Modern distortions in fact are gobbled up by a brain dead media that has little interest and sees only a quaint relic of another time too out of sync with today.

And, thus has the circus suffered from a distaff side increasingly louder against animals acts, even those creepy clowns, more critical by implication of the circus's raw connection to reality. For an irretrievable past, read The White Tops. For an unworkable future, read Circus Talk.

Only when the nation pushes back, only when the American people come to their better senses and take on the Woke crowd, will the circus, too, have a chance to be what it once was -- like so many other things that have been hounded and harassed into the shadows of a new world disorder, where store fronts now feature plywood rather than glass.

Other than that in your way, do have a nice day!