Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Wall of Death

Here comes a exceptionally beautiful look at the art of Wall Riding. Following the Fox'es and their awesome motorcycle carnival attraction. Benedict Campbell's cinematography is gorgeous, capturing a candid and artful look at a rarely seen Carnival Art.

THE WALL OF DEATH from benedict campbell on Vimeo.

Thanks to Carny Trash Aristocracy for posting this video.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Carnytube (3)

Yet again it is opening time in the midway of moving pictures. Clips and things from the world of carny cinema.

Roll on in to the virtual carnival of splendid attractions.

Starting right off with the most chaotic and full on Sideshow you ever saw. From the cradle of yoga and snake charming, its the Warriors of Goja!

For something more sweet and sophisticated take a look at Cardini the Suave Deceiver. This is the only film clip of this master manipulator of cards and cigarettes. Note that he is wearing gloves for most of it...

 The renowned Kehayovi Teeterboard Troupe from Bulgaria accomplished the impossible "SEVEN MAN HIGH". The Kehayovi Troupe's leader George Kehayov, is the bottom man carrying the weight of all the people stacked above him.

The Ringmaster introducing the Kehayovi troupe is Great Britain's Grand Veteran Ringmaster the Honorable Norman Barret. He worked for the Blackpool Tower circus, which is where the Guinness Book of Records breaking teeterboard stunt took place. Here is the Ring Master himself with his sweet trained Budgie act.

Skill and patience...

Amateur magic goes wrong... Thanks to Brett Phister for putting me onto this one.

And finally to top it off, a contortion break dancing hybrid.

 That's all for now folks. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Ray Bradbury and the Carnival

Ray Bradbury is one of the all time great science fiction writers, although he does not particularly like this label.
“I've only done one science fiction book and that's Farenheit 451, based on reality,”  "And his best known outer space work, the Martian Chronicles, has about as much about the Red Planet as a Mars chocolate bar." (Conceptual Fiction.) Nobody likes to be pigeon holed, apart from pigeons of course, particularly not someone who is the author of more than five hundred published works. All this aside, here on the pages of the Illuminated Showman we search for the Carnivalesque origins of things and yet again we have found what we were looking for. Thanks to Hey Rube Circus for drawing our attention to this.

Ray Bradbury, the Showman, accounts for his habit of writing every day originating in a tale that easily could be believed to be spawned by the man's prodigious imagination. But then again as Edward Gant says with the knowledge of a Guild's man, "The Truths of Life lies least of all in the Facts." So perhaps these Seeds of inspiration for the young Bradbury is as close to truth that is possible.

Lon Chaney Jr as the Hunchback
"Bradbury attributes his lifelong habit of writing every day to two incidents. The first, which occurred when he was three years old when his mother took him to Lon Chaney's performance of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the second, which occurred in 1932 when a carnival entertainer, Mr. Electrico,
touched him on the nose with an electrified sword, made his hair stand on end, and shouted, "Live forever!" It was from then that Bradbury wanted to live forever and decided on his career as an author in order to do what he was told: live forever. It was at that age that Bradbury first started to do Magic. Magic was his first great love. If he had not discovered writing, he would have become a magician." (Wikipedia)
And lo and behold on the glorious interweb we find the Master himself recount the incident of meeting Mr Electrico and the Illustrated man.

Mr Electro, sculpture by Christopher Slatof
In his work, this Carnival truth is supported by his first published collection of short stories being titled: Dark Carnival, and his second The Illustrated Man. The pinnacle of the prodigious writers flirtation with the fairground is found in his 1962 novel 'Something Wicked this Way Comes.' Which title is lifted straight from Shakespeare's Macbeth: 'by the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.'

'The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes. . .and the stuff of nightmare.' (Amazon

The tale is of two boys on their way to adulthood. Together they tread paths through the forest of Good and Evil, shrouded in shadows of the looming mountain of Ageing. All this clad in the guise of a sinister carnival that comes to town. Their meeting with Coogar and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show push the boys to men during one memorable night.

The story is described as a horror or dark fantasy novel, and that may be, but it is also deeply poetic. Bradbury digs deeply into his themes in beautifully crafted sentences and descriptions. Here is an example from a monologue delivered by Charles Halloway, father of Will, one of the story's two boy-protagonists.

"First things first. Let’s bone up on history. If men had wanted to stay
bad forever they could have, agreed?...Somewhere we turned in our
carnivore’s teeth and started chewing blades of grass. We been
working mulch as much as blood, into our philosophy, for a quite a
few lifetimes. Since then we measure ourselves up the scale from
apes, but not half so high as angels…. I suppose one night hundreds of
thousands of years ago in a cave by a night fire when one of those
shaggy men wakened to gaze over the banked coals at his woman, his
children, and thought of their being cold, dead, gone forever. Then he
must have wept. And he put out his hand in the night to the woman
who must die some day and to the children who must follow her. And
for a little bit next morning, he treated them somewhat better, for he
saw that they, like himself, had the seed of night in them…."

In 1983 Disney made a movie based on the book which is surprisingly interesting, in a nostalgic, fairy tale kind of way. I still have fond memories of some of Disney's films from my own childhood, perhaps most notably 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea. But as always when a project is undertaken by the media giant a disneyfication happens. The examples are many and nefarious enough, like how they make Charles Halloway a librarian rather than the janitor at the library.

Although receiving mediocre reviews the movie is not terrible. Here is the trailer and a link to the whole thing, so you can choose how long you would like to dwell on this tale by how interested you are in its themes, and execution. Ray Bradbury served as screen writer for the film and later said it was one of the better adaptions of his work.

Here comes the link to the first in a series of 7 links to the whole movie.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 57

Reporter: What do you consider yourself? How would you classify yourself?
Bob Dylan: Well, I like to think of myself in terms of a trapeze artist.
Reporter: Speaking of trapeze artists, I've noticed in some of your recent albums a carnival-type sound. Could you tell me a little about that?
Bob Dylan: That isn't a carnival sound, that's religious. That's very real, you can see that anywhere. 

A Showman Facing the Other Way

From the 'Austin interview,' 22nd of September, 1966. 

The carnivalesque and the religious are sometimes too similar to be told apart...

Saturday, 19 November 2011


It's weekend and here are some a fine selection of Carnival clips for all you faithful readers of the Illuminated Showman.

Don't you just love the good old days and their weird dancing pig puppet acts. This is strange and creepy.

Here follows two clips of physical comedy and clown Luminaries, true Master Showmen.

The first is Larry Griswold, on a trampoline and a diving board. The clip is from the Frank Sinatra show in 1951. 

Next up the king of sticky hands and microphone slapstick, a man which inspired me in my own work. Here he is, the winner of the very first Golden Clown in Monte Carlo in 1974 Mr George Carl.

Some sweet skills!
Selyna Bogino juggling five basket balls with her feet.

 A short clown film from Carnival Cinema

And finally a short edit of a long clown film starring Lon Chaney, 'the man of a thousand faces', in one of his many roles as a clown. This is from the Man who gets Slapped and it is set to music by the paramount circus band Circus Contraption.

Hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 56 B

The latest Lessons have been talking of Magic. This is because I have returned to Norway where I have again gained access to my father, the Great Santini's Library of Magic. One thing to remember for those of you that does not dabble in the arts of the Conjurer is that creating magic does not have to be taken literally as actually performing magic tricks.

“When you take any activity, any art, any discipline, any skill, take it and push it as far as it has ever been pushed before, push it into the wildest edge of edges, then you force it into the realm of real magic.”
- Tom Robbins

Every time a Showman graces a stage, be it on a pavement, in a theater, or a tent, magic can happen. With the right mindset, with the right presentation a technical juggling or acrobatic display can transport the Crowd away from their mundane reality to a place where the Showman creates the rules.
A magic experience happens when a Showman creates the feeling of astonishment in a Crowd. When they forget about where they are, their problems, fears and worries and for a brief moment have a clear, primal experience they associate with a child's state of mind: pure wonder or a Zen insight.

"Astonishment is not an emotion that is created. It is an existing state that is revealed. Tricks are simply our tools to help unleash the moment." Paul Harris.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Truth in Reality and Deception

(Shaman Showman - part 4)

"Dancing Sorcerer" After Henri Breuil's drawing.
“The oldest religion of which we have any secure knowledge is the shamanism of the late Old Stone Age (Paleolithic) as we have seen it depicted in the caves of southern France and northern Spain.” (Weston LaBarre.) Further, “Nothing justifies the supposition that, during the hundreds and thousands of years that precedes the earliest Stone Age, humanity did not have a religious life as intense and various as in the succeeding periods.” (Mircea Eliade.) 
Research and deepened understanding of early religious practices reveals the riches of the religious experience of these ancient human systems. They were in no way inferior in their ability to supply answers to big philosophical questions, to control the dangerously random processes of nature, to strengthen community bonds, or providing real healing powers in times of sickness.                        
12000 yo cave painting, Trois Freres, France

From the furthest recesses of time our ancestors put their trust in shamans with spiritual and bodily needs. For the shaman was not only priest but also medicine man. Today this seems very strange indeed, since doctor and priest are two very separate occupations. Each belonging to fundamentally different ideological systems, namely science and religion. In these ancient times though, such distinctions were yet to be made. It is interesting here to note that, at root level, these sprung from a similar source.

“In a mysterious world full of unknown dangers like death, disease and other disasters, the shaman is the man who claims knowledge and power over these frightening mysteries that the ordinary man manifestly does not have. Clinically, we might view the shaman as a paranoiac, in his claims to omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence. And yet, since these are what his clientele demand of him, these are what the medicine man must purport to provide.” (LaBarre)

All this was the shaman's obligation. Since early man placed their faith in shamans we must ask: What did shamans do to deserve this trust? What powers did they wield? And how well did it work?
Shamanism was practiced worldwide, from Europe to America, Africa to Mongolia, and Brazil to Japan. This enormous distribution might certainly be taken as an indication of its efficacy. It did what it set out to do effectively enough for the practice to be almost universal. 

What powers did they wield?

According to Melbourne Christopher, one of the oldest and most performed Native American mysteries was a ritual know as the shaking tent. It was an important and often performed shamanistic ritual amongst the North American Cree Culture. It played an important role in the yearly cycle of harvest and other ritual activities of the Innu people of Quebec and Labrador.
“It was not only an important method of direct communication with the caribou and other animal masters, as well as with Mishtapeu and cannibal spirits, it was also a source of amusement. The shaman used the tent to look into the hidden world of animal spirits, and to make contact with Innu in distant groups.” United Cherokee Nation

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 56

When you consider the archetypal, historical, and cultural background of whatever you do, it gives you a sense that your occupation can be a calling and not just a job.


Here are some snippets of carny relevant moving pictures that I have found fascinating and hope you all might enjoy.

Carnival Casino, a short film by Carnival Cinema.

An animal act to blow you all away! I am proud to say that I discovered this on a late night exploration of the shady world of russian animal circus. Amongst bear, and hippo acts of dubious nature I found this gem. A goat on a tight rope, with a monkey on its back doing a one armed handstand the goats horn sounds unbelievable, but it is not even the extent of this incredible act.

I am a contortionist and watching this makes me feel stiff and in serious need of practice. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ross Sisters!

And finally the ultimate one man circus. The first time I saw this I got a lump in my throat as the high wire exited the tent. It is beautfiul and inspiring.

That's all for now folks.

Følg Drømmene dine

In early october 2010 I brought a bunch of friends with me to Haugesund, Norway and for one night only we became Captain Frodo's Carnival of Dreams. (To read a review in Norwegian click here.) The show was sold out and got a great five star review in the local paper. Further I was contacted by a journalist from Haugesund Avis and asked to write a piece for the paper. What follows here is that piece as it appeared on 13th of October, 2010.

Hope you like and understand it. If your Norwegian is rusty scroll down and click below for a rough translation.

Etter å ha vært borte siden 1996, kom jeg
hjem til Haugesund for en kveld for å
vise hvem jeg har blitt siden sist.
Jeg er ikke lenger bare Frodo Santini,
jeg er også, eller snarere, Captain Frodo,
The Incredible Rubberman. Veien dit var
ikke lett å finne.
Det finnes ikke noe opplæringskontor
som skaffer plass på en gumminannsbedrift.
Vil man, må man være fleksibel og
plukke opp lærdom der man finner det.
Jeg begynte min karriere som assistent i
Santini’s Magishow. Det høres gjerne
stort og imponerende ut. Det var det vel
også, på sin måte, men det var bare meg
og pappa – Store Santini og Santini Junior.
På åttitallet var det oss to som var sirkusmiljøet
i Haugesund.
En så snever interesse reiste mange
spørsmål om mine valg og verdier.
«Koffår syns du de e’ så kjekt å øva på
syke triks?»
"Fiskarane" og Bykjirkå
«Ka ti’ ska’ du få ein skikkelige jobb?’
Spørsmål enhver kunstnersjel stiller
seg selv. Tvilen er der alltid. Nok til å
slukke gløden i et barnehjerte. Jeg
trengte et større sirkusmiljø før gløden
døde. En plass jeg kunne bli akseptert
for den jeg var. Ingen spørsmål stilt.
Den som intet våger, intet vinner. En som
akkurat er blitt ferdig på skolen, har
fullført Ex.phil., har et hode fullt av tanker
og et hjerte som banker for ting som
han tror på, som ikke har studiegjeld
fordi han har gjort gateshow og laget
ballongdyr på det nyåpnede Amanda
senteret – har lite å tape.
Dette er en god tid å ta sjanser. Finne
seg selv og gjøre drøm til virkelighet. Å
mane en drøm til liv er en dans på roser.
Myke føtter, skarpe torner. Bloddråper
en ikke kan skille fra knuste rosenblad.
Vondt og vakkert på samme tid.
Edinburgh-festivalen 1998. Jeg har
begynt et gateshow. Jeg setter kofferten
ned og begynner å samle folk. Når jeg
snur meg har noen stjålet kofferten med
alt jeg eier. Pass på tingene, sier Verden.
Jeg bor i en Ford Transit, våkner
febersvett, kondens på veggene. Jeg har
bronkitt. Helst vil jeg sove, men kjører til
Covent Garden. Trenger penger til antibiotika
for å bli kvitt bronkitten.
Etter showet, teller jeg opp det i hatten
og ser at jeg fremdeles ikke har nok.
Skjelven begynner jeg på ‘an igjen. Du
må lage en bedre finale, sier Verden.
Glastonbury-festivalen 2000. Et stappfullt
sirkustelt reiser seg når jeg endelig
slenger tvangstrøya i scenegulvet.
Nå begynner det å komme seg, sier
Verden. Applausen lokker drømmen litt
nærmere virkeligheten.
Som oppdagelsesreisende i sirkusverdenen,
beskrevet på de hvite sidene
bakerst i atlaset, fant jeg litt etter litt
andre som delte min drøm og som ville
henge seg på min ekspedisjon.
Jeg samlet hjelpere med ferdigheter
minst like utrolige som Askeladdens.
Med dem dro jeg drømmen helt inn. Vi
skapte en ny virkelighet.
På flyet til Helganes slumrer jeg. «Du
blir aldri stor i Haugesund» sniker seg
inn i min bevissthet. London, Paris, New
York, ikke noe problem, men Haugesund?
Vil de forstå? Tvilen er der alltid.
Veien ut i det ukjente er lang og
kronglet. En ung kunstner uten form,
med lite å fortelle bortsett fra et rop fra
lengst inne i sjelen.
Utydelige ord med ingen annen
mening enn at de vil bli hørt. Små spirer
The Great Santini Enjoying the show.
av det romantikerne kalte Håpets Blå
Blomst, så sarte og sårbare.
Hvor kult hadde det ikke vært om Haugesund
var et drivhus for disse spirene, og
at haugesunderne var frivillige og entusiastiske
gartnere, så unge spirer slapp å
reise for å vokse seg sterke.
P Byscenen sitter jeg tre meter
over bakken, på toppen av en vaklevoren
stabel blikkbokser.
Captain Frodo’s Carnival of Dreams
spiller en kveld i Haugesund. Jeg ser
publikum tørke svette håndflater på
bukser og kjoler. Stolthet i øynene deres.
De forstår. Jeg er kommet hjem. Full
sirkel. Jeg er akseptert, ingen spørsmål
stilt. Min drøm har blitt virkelig – også
for dem. En vakker virkelighet de trygt
kan flykte til. En virkelighetsflukt til min
Følg drømmene dine, mine damer og
herrer. Våg å drøm. Jeg ville bli den
Utrolige Gummimannen – nå er jeg det.
Sier jeg fra stabelen.

 For the few of you not quite up on your Norwegian I did a google translate of it for you. (It is funny at times...)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 55

"The Question for the performer in forming an effect should not be “what can I do?” or “How can I use this?” The ultimate question that will lead to truly magical effects must be spectator-centric. 
“What would really freak out a spectator?” What would convince them that I possessed this power?” “What would move them in a particular way?” And "What would they want to see?” Only after answering this, I think, one should ask – “And what then can I provide to take it a step further?”

Derren Brown - (Pure Effect.)  

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Marc Chagall and the Circus

"For me, a circus is a magical spectacle, a passing and dissolving like a little world. There is a disquieting circus, a circus of hidden depths. These clowns, riders, acrobats are imprinted on my sight. Why? Why am I moved by their make-up and their grimaces? With them I travel on toward other horizons. Their colors and their painted masks draw me toward other, strange, psychic forms which I long to paint.

Circus! A magical word, a centuries old entertainment parading before us, in which a tear, a smile, a gesture of arm or leg takes on the quality of great art.

 And what do circus people receive in return? A crust of bread. Night brings them solitude and sadness stretching on to the following day until evening, amid a blaze of electric light, heralds a renewal of the old life. For me, the circus is the most tragic of all dramatic performances.

Throughout the centuries, its voice has been the most shrill heard in the quest for the amusement and joy of man. Often it takes on a high poetic form. I seem to see a Don Quixote tilting at windmills, like the inspired clown who has known tears and dreams of human love.

My circus pitches its Big Top in the sky.
It performs among the clouds, 
among the chairs,
 or in the moon-reflecting windows.
In the streets a man goes by.
He puts out the lights and lamps of the town.
The show is over."

Marc Chagall, Circus (1967)

"Chagall saw circus folk as the perfect example of artists who desire to be loved and achieve their dreams. He identified himself with these people and the representations he made of them can be seen as self-portraits."
Chagall’s son, David MacNeil.

  "For him, clowns and acrobats always resembled figures in religious paintings... The evolution of the circus works... reflects a gradual clouding of his worldview, and the circus performers now gave way to the prophet or sage in his work—- a figure into whom Chagall poured his anxiety as Europe darkened, and he could no longer rely on the lumiére-liberté of France for inspiration."

Jackie Wullschlager

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 54

Why do we do it? 
Make up your mind for your intentions will be written on you for the Crowd to see. If so, why not write something beautiful something that will make them think: “There is no lie in this Showman’s Fire.”
Not doing it for the fame or the fortune, but doing shows to help people a bit, to heal them a bit, and to free them a bit. Small steps in the right direction will get you there in the end.
Imagine reading that and knowing it was true…

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Joseph Carey Merrick - The Elephant Man

Joseph Merrick - The Elephant Man

"The showman—speaking as if to a dog—called out harshly, “Stand up!” The thing arose slowly and let the blanket that covered its head and back fall to the ground. There stood revealed the most disgusting specimen of humanity that I have ever seen. In the course of my profession I had come upon lamentable deformities of the face due to injury or disease, as well as mutilations and contortions of the body depending upon like causes, but at no time had I met with such a degraded or perverted version of a human being as this lone figure displayed."

"From the intensified painting in the street, I had imagined the Elephant Man to be of gigantic size. This, however, was a little man below the average height and made to look shorter by the bowing of his back. The most striking feature about him was his enormous and misshapened head. From the brow there projected a huge bony mass like a loaf, while from the back of the head hung a bag of spongy, fungus-looking skin, the surface of which was comparable to brown cauliflower. On the top of the skull were a few long lank hairs. The osseous growth on the forehead almost occluded one eye. 
The circumference of the head was no less than that of the man’s waist. From the upper jaw there projected another mass of bone. It protruded from the mouth like a pink stump, turning the upper lip inside out and making of the mouth a mere slobbering aperture. This growth from the jaw had been so exaggerated in the painting as to appear to be a rudimentary trunk or tusk. The nose was merely a lump of flesh, only recognizable as a nose from its position. The face was no more capable of expression than a block of gnarled wood. The back was horrible, because from it hung, as far down as the middle of the thigh, huge, sacklike masses of flesh covered by the same loathsome cauliflower skin."

Sir Frederik Treves description in The Elephant man and other reminiscences of his first encounter with Joseph Merrick.

Thoughts surrounding a poem
Joseph's hat/mask

A man should be measured by the soul, but perhaps not from his soul alone. The man with the noblest and loftiest ideals but a temper uncontrollable enough to cause grief and harm to those it might fall upon is but a flawed soul. Man’s actions springs from his mind so through action a soul enters the world and the persons biography becomes the manifestation of their souls.
The biography of Joseph Merrick stands like a lighthouse. He was a man nature gave nothing to guide calloused minds of common men towards his inclusion in the human race, demonstrated so aptly in the famous words screamed out at the mob in David Lynch's 1980 movie.

“I!… am!... Not!... An animal.”

He acts, speaks and lives as a human being even when humanity shuns him. He did not ask to be born this way, but into this world he came. But still in this misery his humanity found its way through the severe physical deformities, through the torture and abuse by exhibitors and so called friends. Inside the Elephant man resided a soul that could not be crushed by all the worlds hardships. A poem from his autobiography adapted by Joseph from Isaak Watts' "False Greatness" expresses his feelings about himself and his formidable appearance with grace and burning beauty.

Cardboard church created by Joseph.
“Tis true my form is something odd,
but blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you

Was I so tall, could reach the pole,
Or grasp the ocean with a span;
I would be measured by the soul,
The mind’s the standard of the man."

Never could the poet Isaac Watts even in his wildest imaginations, if indeed the ‘father of English Hymnody’ had a wild imagination, just how fantastically apposite his words would become for a  man deemed by his contemporaries to have been “Gods foulest creation” or “Natures grossest mistake.” To the point that today a google search for "False Greatness by Isaac Watts" brings up Joseph Merrick's version rather than Watts' as the first hit.

Never has there been a man more adept at making us behold the durability of the very essence of humanity. With the troubled and deprived life this brave soul led, he should be a reminder for us all that no matter how much deprivation of those things most often imagined as necessities for human happiness should we let it bereave us of upstanding and heroic dignity.

Still from Lynch's movie

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 53

Barnum and General Tom Thumb
 “This is a trading world, and men, women, and children—who cannot live on gravity alone—need something to satisfy their gayer, lighter moods and hours, and he who ministers to this want is in a business established by the author of our nature. If he worthily fulfills his mission and amuses without corrupting, he need never feel that he has lived in vain.”

P T Barnum 

Butterfly Circus

A tremendous circus short film. Winner of the first ever Clint Eastwood Filmmaker award and several others. It is a beautifully written, and realized film. Inspiring and truly about the heart of circus, not just a love story set in a circus setting which often is the case with circus films.
It is apparently on its way to become a feature film so keep your eyes out.
Here is their website.

Friday, 4 November 2011

A Child’s dream – The art of the Circus poster

“The circus of the present day is judged by the quality of its paper."

W C Coups promotional Carny Cash
"I believe I ordered the first three-​sheet lithograph ever made… This was considered a piece of foolishness; but when I ordered a hundred-​sheet bill and first used it in Brooklyn it was considered such a curiosity that show people visited the City of Churches for the express purpose of looking at this advertising marvel. How things have changed!”

W C Coup –

Sawdust and spangles, stories and secrets of the circus (1901)

“One of the most beautiful and artful of the posters is “The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth:  a Child’s Dream,” 
an 1896 lithograph that depicts a child in bed surrounded by a Bosch-like wreath of circus performers.  The poster dances toward nightmare, with clowns riding ostriches, bears with clown collars standing on one another’s shoulders, a monkey riding a harlequin in a makeshift rodeo, all printed in the rich, fermented colors of a Max Ernst painting.  Collage couldn’t do this:  there’s something both innocently disturbing and disturbingly innocent here, with a text banner at the bottom reading:   
“This smiling face is multiplied a million times a year.  Whereas the children’s friend this wondrous show appears:  with sunny gleams of fairyland, with scenes of merriest glee, with cute and cunning animals for either side of the sea.”

"The language is arcane, the imagery antique, but there’s a mysteriousness that transcends purpose, and gives this poster a nostalgic fervor “fine art” doesn’t usually muster.  It’s serendipity:  you the gallery-goer stumbling upon an accidental connection between circus and Surrealism, Barnum & Bailey and contemporary art (the “street art” of Banksey or Shepherd Fairey for instance) that tries to use the forms of advertising (text, printing, hyperbole) but can only come up with thematic irony at best, self-aggrandizement at worst."

"Shadow boxes become poetic theaters or settings wherein are metamorphosed the element of a childhood pastime.”  Joseph Cornell.

 "The sincerity involved in trying to sell the dream to the child gives this poster its enigmatic power, and somehow allows this simple, humble poster a way out of kitsch and into dream.  
It’s the same alchemy Joseph Cornell employed when building his shadow-box paeans to lonely glamorous hotels:  what is publically fashioned as luxury and thrill becomes a secret you keep in order to return to a paradise that really isn’t there, on Earth at least.  Cornell’s shadow-boxes, like many of the posters in “The Amazing American Circus Poster,” depict life as transient and full of moments you can only capture through fantasy, an encyclopedia of cotton-candy mysticism, seediness transcending into longing, and longing melting into trance."

"These posters still mirror desires and excitements that become renditions of what we often forget we need:   
spectacle, absurdity, delight.”

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 52

"The rise of modern showbiz began during the seventeenth century, alongside the beginnings of a decline in the power of the Church. It was no coincidence. Prior to that time, the people's entertainment was despised and repressed by the ecclesiastical authorities. Their attitude did not change, they just gradually lost the power to enforce their prejudice. What was it about the medieval jugglers, minstrels, acrobats and rope-dancers that the Church found so objectionable? Did the churchmen suspect that these merry pleasures were the left-overs of an older religion, the remnants of ta once powerful and ancient magical tradition?"

"In order to penetrate the mysteries of showbusiness, we must begin somewhere near the beginnings of human culture. For modern showbiz is, in reality, a huge disguise. It is not as it appears to be..."

Rogan Taylor

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Carnival Lullaby

All the world has gone to bed
and the fairground lights gone dead.
Little child its time to sleep,
the night is no reason to weep.

The strongman is drunk and passed out,
nuzzling the sea lions snout.
The Siamese twins called Ying and Yang
slept before the church bells clang.

Sleep my child don’t be afraid.
Rest your head on the pillows brocade.
If you sleep to night I promise true
the world will still be there for you

Don’t believe what the mad jester said,
dear child you’ve been mislead.
The world will go on without end
even if you sleep my friend

For the night is a time for dreams
when nothing is what it seems,
carousel horses flies through fairy floss clouds
high above the crowds

Sleep my child don’t be afraid.
rest your head on the pillows brocade.
If you sleep to night I promise true
the world will still be there for you.