Friday, September 29, 2023

Boob Tube to You Tube ... Lost in a Billion Bytes, the Circus from Astley to Zippos ...

Blame this post on Comcast offering me a better price if I would only upgrade.  New cable box and modem (do they still make those?) and I fell into a dizzy smorgasbord of infinite video footage fit for big screen TV. And am still falling. So Easy (and tempting) to get lost, looking for this but caught by  that over there that shamelessly plays to my non-circus interests (what else do they know about me?).

But out of nowhere, too, can pop surprising delights, like Big Top Circus from 1954, a weekly “kiddie” circus, cheerfully ring-mastered by Jack Sterling. It  looks more like a circus for all ages, free of the pretentious ballet- and narrative-driven drivel that’s draining the life out of our big tops.  Take Mel Hall's three Cycling Wiz Kids, from around 5 to 10 in ages, who score big and breezy on unicycles.  The littleest one, a boy,  falls and gets back up and tries and tries again, four times, and achieves the trick before our astonished eyes. And, are you kidding me, world? – a man dancing with a bear, smooth as two aging adults over a waxy floor? 

Sunday School Barnum?   In You Tube land you learn the damndest things, such as this whopper: Not only did Barnum & Bailey invent the three ring circus, which they kind of did, but they cleaned out all grifting on their midway, thus earning themselves she honorable put down among competitors of  “Sunday school boys.” Are you laughing?  Ringling brothers: SUE.  Historical fictions leak through even on loftier PBS-certified documentaries, such as The Circus, in which it is claimed that TV killed it in the 1950s.  So, have I been been hallucinating for the last fifty years?

A sharper image through fewer pixels: Looking back at the bear and  man dancing together, and the little ones riding their one wheelers,  you can feel what it was like to be fully and perfectly pleased by a circus act plain and simple, before the invasion of Cirque du Precious.

Countdown to Ringling Redo, beginning TODAY. And how might production embellishments  be used —  or abused —  by the Felds when they launch their sanitized version of the new Greatest Show on Earth?.  This is finally happening within hours, down in Boissier City, LA. Juliet Feld in a promo, chirps up how the audience will be more intimately involved by being seated closer to the action and connected digitally to closeups of performers.  Yawn. Didn’t they already try this in their last edition, the one that went out of this world and ended up in the graveyard? The year 2017.   Have they learned nothing?  Like really,  who wants to see a Broadway show from premium seating in the wings?   I am reminded of Al Ringling’s definition of ringmaster decorum, which might as well count for circus itself -- “elusive yet vital.”  In my book, a million less pixels will do.

So, back to earth and across the big pond, let us go zip zip zipping up and over to Zippos Circus.

Revered ringmaster and incomparable bird trainer, Norman Barrett

Hilariously original from diminutive dynamo Paulo Dos Santos of Brazia : How a balloon can be contorted into so many amusing sizes and connections to the human body.this one nearly brought down the tent. ZIPPOTASTIC.

There’s a clean effervescent flow and glow to this straight ahead big top. For my taste, the three most memorable moments are: (1) a most engagingly clever juggler who keeps tennis rackets and luggage in motion (2) that HUGE  balloon you see being ingeniously worked by Paulo Dos Santos, and   (3) The Temujin Troupe from the Mongolian Steppes.  At their best, these eight agile acrobats execute voltige and casting in a continuous stream, lending the feel of a novelized flying return act, which I could have watched  over and over again, But NO, Wait, Hold on —  STOP, correction!  Blame it on You Tubery!  Why did I say so little about them on my notes and yet now give them the center ring status here? Why? Here’s the reason why.

How you Tube scrambles reality into billions of bits, some getting mixed up with others, leaving us with fractured impressions of what really happened . Turns out, the Zippos performance I watched on You Tube contained a version of their act very different from another one I subsequently watched, from off the show's website.  Apparently, on their way to Zippos the multi-gifted Tumujins were re-programed down to a more static series of human pyramids, each followed by a drawn out reach for more applause. Gone were the streaming acrobatics.

Something I haven’t seen before: These five words usually come to mind when discovering that rare novelty at the circus that I live for, and I think of the man who first spoke them to me when I asked him what he looked for in scouting acts: John Ringling North.   Another discovery I made was scrambled my way by You Tube, ever ready to sustain my primary focus at the moment  —  a clip of ringmaster Norman Barrett, who has previously blown the whistle for Zippos,  performing the most astonishing bird act. Now, I am in awe of the man’s talents. In his youth, I am told by Douglas McPherson, he rode horses roman style.  “He stood on two galloping horses while a third ran in the opposite direction between his legs!”

"When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling ... the whole world smiles with you,” sings Sir Norman while gingerly coaching a dozen or so trained birds who fly back and forth between two little turning carousels.  How did he ever get them to .. How?. These are the moments when circus proves its true genius.        

You Tube excels when rolling out footage unmolested by expert voices telling us what we should think.  You don’t go to a circus to think as much as to feel — to gasp and awe and laugh and thrill and scream with joy.  Or to smile over  the simple yet wondrous charm of a bear dancing with a man.



Douglas McPherson said...

I think your "something I haven't seen before" is the five-word secret of circus success. It's that novel act that draws a crowd. My better half told me that years before we met, the only time she ever went to a circus was after she saw a poster showing a bear riding in a car. It was something she hadn't seen before, and she had to see it. The first time I went to a big top - and travelled a very long way to do so - was when I saw the news coverage around 'Britain's last circus elephants'. It was 'something I hadn't seen before', and therefore something that I had to see. Looking through books of vintage circus posters, time and again, they focus on those one-off novelty acts - a strong man being run over by a car, a hypnotist, a giant gorilla, an exotic act from another culture. Those 'things you've never seen before' and maybe never will again. Those are the acts that make you buy a ticket.

Showbiz David said...

The most impressive thing about North’s answer was how quickly and concisely it was rendered. I can only remember thinking how fascinating it would be to learn how his mind worked, what qualities he looked for in an act – only to be unexpectedly impressed by his five-word brevity. You give some great examples. My first circus at around the age of six left me with three images: elephants parading around a ring, the flying nets going up, and a simple clown act. Little kids are the luckiest, for they likely will see many things they haven’t seen before!