Friday, 30 March 2012

Lauging Matters with Rowan Atkinson

Rowan Atkinson's great TV program Laughing Matters about physical comedy. As funny as it is instructive.
For some reason I can't embed the full show. The only thing I can embed is this clip above which is kind of part two of the below. But follow this link and you'll find a link to a playlist of almost the full show here.

Here are links to the individual parts: part one of five, two of five, three of five, Five of five
Part four seems to have slipped the cracks. I have chosen to post this even in the state it is, because its really worth a look. If you know of a better link I would love to know it.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

the Fool, His Social and Literary History

The Showman is a person of many guises. His aspects are many and varied today we will take a closer look at one of them: the Fool.
To do so the Illuminated Showman managed to order a great out-of-print book from alibris. After seven weeks of waiting it finally arrived and has been read with much vigour. The book is called The Fool, His Social and Literary History (1966). The woman who wrote it, Enid Welsford has many great insights about the foolish side of our many faceted Showman. By thinking more thoroughly about our vocational character's rich and deep tradition in both real life and in the popular imagination we build for ourselves a firmer ground to stand on. It adds weight and gravity to our noble Craft.
We thought the best way of sharing her keen scholarship was to present the key points of her thesis through a carefully selected and ordered number of quotes, to let you get it in her own words.
Hope Welsford's thoughts help illuminate this aspect of the Showman for you all.

The fool is a man who falls below the average human standard, but whose defects have been transformed into a source of delight, a mainspring of comedy, which has always been one of the great recreations of mankind and paricularly of civilized mankind. The nature of this transformation of folly into happiness is surely worthy of scrutiny. Does comedy act on the spiritual system as a vitamin or as a narcotic? Does the enjoyment of it involve deeper insight, keener criticism or deliberate evasion of reality? I suggest we should go to the fool for an answer to these not unimportant questions, just as we examine the tragic hero not to enlarge our understanding not only of tragedy, but even of the ultimate mysteries of life.

A clown is not quite comparable, for instance, to a violinist or even to a tragic actor. The violinist is Paganini, master of techique, the tragic actor is Kemble, famous interpreter of Hamlet and other roles; but Grock and Charlie Chaplin do not express other men's thoughts, they are the creators of their own alter egos which, even outside the walls of the theatre, cling to them like shadows - at any rate in the popular imagination.

A bird's-eye view of the history of fools suggest s that they fall into three main grades or groups. St Chrysostom formulated the most comprehensive and fundamental definition when he described the Fool as 'He Who Gets Slapped'.
But if the fool is 'He Who Gets Slapped', the most successful fool is 'He Who Is None The Worse For Slapping', and this introduces a new and more interesting factor into the comic situation. THe fool is now no longer a mere safety valve for the supressed instincts of a bully, he provides a subtler balm for the fears and wounds of those afflicted with the inferiority complex, hte greater part of humanity if we may elieve our psychologists. It is all very well to laugh at the buffeted simpleton; we too are subject to the blows of fate, and of perople stronger and wiser than ourselves, in fact we are the silly Clown, the helpless Fool.

The fact is that the Fool can count upon almost every member of his audience holding two beliefs: firstly, that mankind is divided into the sheep and the goats; secondly, that he himself belongs to the party of the Injured Innocents. Even dictators and supermen introduce an occasional note of pathos into their eloquence, and find it expedient to make a subtle appeal to piry as well as to identify himself with the Fool, as he turns the tables on his chastisers, defeat the powerful, outwits the wise and assumes the most effective of all roles, the role of David against Goliath, the role of the pariah triumphant, who can ask his so called superiors with a grin: 'Who then does the slapping after all?'

'What do slaps matter to me, since I can render them not only innocuous but lucrative and funny?' For the genius of the Fool is manifested by his power of deluding us into the belief that he can draw the sting of pain; by hi  power of surroinding us with an atmosphere of make-believe, in which nothing is serious, nothing is solid, nothing has abiding consequences.

Fundamentally the clown depends, not upon the external conflict of hostile groups, but upon a certain inner contradiction in the soul of every man. In the first place we are creatures of the earth, propagating our species like other animals in need of food, clothing and shelter and of the money that procures them. Yet if we need money, are we so wholly creatures of the earth? If we need  to cover our nakedness by material clothes or spiritual ideals, are we so like the other animals? This incongruity is exploited by the Fol. the Fool is an unabashed glutton and coward and knave, he is - as we say a natural; we laugh at him and enjoy a pleasant sense of superiority; he looks at us oddly and we suspect that he is our alter ego; he winks at us and we are delighted at the discovery that we also are gluttons and cowards and knaves. the rogue has freed us from shame. More than that, he has persuaded us that wasted affection, thwarted ambition, latent guilt are mere delusions to be laughed away. For how can we feel spiritual pain, if we are only animals? But even the primitive joke about the human body has its complexity. We laugh to find that we are as natural as the fool, but we laugh also because we are normal enough to know how very unnatural it is to be as natural as all that.

Therefor, whenever the clown baffles the policeman, whenever the fool makes the sage look silly, whenever the acrobat defeats the machine, there is a sudden sense of pressure relieved, of a birth of new joy and freedom.

An here it is that one begins to discern a possibility that belief in the relationship between the poet, the seer and the fool may be more than an antiquated superstition due to out-moded ideas about Djinns, Madmen's Wisps, and Wells of Inspiration. On the contrary, these errors may rather be mistaken attempts to formulate the results of genuine experience as available in the twentieth century as in the so-called Dark Ages - the experience, namely, of two kinds of wisdom: the wisdom of the intellect, and that of the spirit.

the Stage-clown therefor is as naturally detached from the play as the Court-fool is detached from social life, and the fool's most fitting place in literature is as hero of episodic narrative, or as the voice speaking from without and not from within the dramatic plot. AN once more, in his capacity as detached commentator upon the action the fool exploits an inner contradiction; the incongruity due to that strange twofold consciousness which makes each one of us realize only too well that he is a mere bubble of temporary existence threatened every moment with extinction, and yet be quite unable to shake off the sensation of being a sable entity existing eternal and invulnarable at the very center of the flux of history, a kind of living punctum indifferens, or point of rest.

...the Fool does not necessarily inhabit a romantic or beautiful world; on the contrary his world may be very well adapted to his nature, which is often greedy, grasping, dirty and heartless. For the source of comic delight is the pleasing delusion that facts are more flexible than they appear to be, and this delusion may be induced as readily through a slapstick farce or a vulgar joke as through a Midsummer Night's Dream. The Fool is a creator not of beauty but of spiritual freedom.

Many of our contemporaries combine Hamlet's idea that the wold is a dungeon with a curious reluctance to unlock the prison door, a reluctance, however, which undoubtedly springs from courage, for it is due to the notion that the prison is coextensive with the universe and that therefor the only possible escape is the unworthy lapse into a drugged sleep.
A real life modern Fool Rumple Jolly Goodfellow.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Tricks: The Showman's Power

Michael Parkes: the Juggler.
Doing tricks seems like a frivolous thing. As someone who has made a life and a living of tricks, acts and routines, I ask myself: Is there more to them than mere entertainment value? What makes them so captivating and fascinating to me and the Crowd? What is their true power?
(Note: Here at The Illuminated Showman we believe the shaman to be a proto-showman. Read more here. In the context of these articles, the terms showman and shaman are interchangeable.)

The shaman is a healer of body, mind and community. Not just healing sickness, but creating and strengthening bonds; between clan members, and between Crowds and the Other World. (The spirit world/world of Imagination).
The vocational calling and necessary abilities of becoming a shaman were often aquired through illness. The person would encounter death but in the delirium of sickness he would miraculously heal himself. Through this experience he was thought to grasp certain truths about the Mystery of Healing, such as the healing power of faith, belief, suggestion, and ecstasy. The power of transformation and the use of altered states  gain insight into the unknowable became very real for the shaman. 
To help others the way he himself had been helped, he would revisit the place or mental state of his encounter with death. But conveying the mysterious was not an exact science. It was a human experience; rich, complicated and full of possible interpretations. It would need a special setting, showing, and telling. Here we find a clue to the origin of the Showman's Craft. The more powerful and gripping the representation of his ordeal was for the clan, the more effective it would be. 
The shaman would tell the story through song, dance, weird animal noises, and, important for us in this article, a whole manner of tricks to sharpen the attention of the Crowd. Tricks like the magic illusions or skills which showmen now use daily to capture and shape the attention of their onlookers. Once the Crowd had been softened by the atmosphere of the dark tent and the shaman's ecstatic dancing in the flickering of fire, he would perform a trick. In this context the trick would lift the crowd into an altered state like a Zen koan. It would stop the normal thought processes and let the participants willingly give themselves over to the extraordinary. Sharing the shaman's journey into another realm in an elevated state of attention, the participants would themselves experience Mystery, its complex nature and potential power.
Perhaps in the end
the nature of Mystery,
the core of a Secret,
Is simply not knowing?
The unexplainable has a palpable, real power on human beings. To such an extent that whether the secret hidden in the mystery is real or not, does not diminish its power. For real truth is not something that is, but something that happens; an individual experience in the beholder. In the moment it is experienced it is true, and that gives the experience its power. The shamans were aware of this in their use of illusions or deception. They knew they were tricks, but that their power was real.
Tricks conceals a double meaning and a double reality. They were vital in displaying the shaman's power, as proof of his extraordinary abilities, but are at their root an illusion.
The state of mind required for healing was a jump into another mode of consciousness which had been experienced by the shaman as he fought for life in the throes of illness. To extend his healing power beyond himself, the shaman needed to create this state of mind in his Crowd without the illness. To do this he used hallucinogenic drugs that would quite literally alter the crowd's mind-sets, or with tricks. From the shaman's almost universal use of tricks, we know that this was an important way of opening the necessary portals of the mind. Of course there is no reason why the shaman couldn't do both, first have his crowd all drink from his potion of psilocybin mushrooms and then do tricks whilst the Crowd was intoxicated. Perhaps this was needed in extreme cases. 
The tricks themselves were lenses for focusing the attention of the Crowd. They were not the point, but a means to an end. They were merely vehicles, the tools, which amplify and focus the real transformative power of the shaman.
It was a circle. Shaman, Tricks, Crowd. Each one enabling the next the ability of transformation. Tricks, in this sense, are tools for opening the mind and the heart of Crowds to create a state where the impossible can happen. Together the showman and the Crowd create something artificial, and therefor uniquely human. By man, for man.

The true healing power of Lies
In a recent Radiolab episode on the placebo effect, Anthropologist Daniel Mormon tells a story of an apprentice Shaman.
A young man of the Kwakiutl tribe of British Columbia called Kuesalid (?) is a bit of a skeptic and thinks some of the activities of his tribes shaman aren’t real, that they are tricking people. The shaman is a powerful and frightening man, but Kuesalid is not going to let that stop him. He is determined to get to the bottom of the so called magic. 
He manages to get the shaman to take him on as an apprentice and begins to learn the magic songs, dances and rituals of the tribe. Eventually he has proved himself enough to earn their trust and they teach him one of their most important and powerful healing rituals. 
The ritual goes like this. A sick person comes in and, after the appropriate songs and dances have been done, the sacred smokes has cleansed the tent and the people, the shaman places his lips against the afflicted part of the patient and sucks. The shaman would then suck something out of the patient and proceed to cough out small feathers drenched in blood.
The secret Kuesalid learnt was that the feathers were secretly put in the mouth, and as the sucking goes on you bite the inside of your mouth. As you cough out the mixture of feathers and blood the shaman claims the cause of the disease has now left the patient. This was what the skeptical apprentice had suspected all along, but the story does not end there.
As part of the obligation as an apprentice he would tend to the sick of his tribe when called for. That was what happened. An important family asked for his help to cure a sick daughter and, because of his obligation to the tribe as an apprentice, Kuesalid couldn’t say no. So off he went to her sickbed and sang the songs, performed the rituals, and then preceded to perform the feathers and blood suction ritual even though he knew it wasn’t real.
To his great surprise the girl’s illness broke, and the healing was a great success. Kuesalid was still not convince but he performed the feather ritual again and again and found it to be incredibly effective. He was perplexed and confused since he knew the ritual to be a trick of deception, but he also understood its great healing power. In the end Kuesalid finishes his apprenticeship and becomes a healer and realizes, in the words of Daniel Mormon:

“Truth and lies are not as fundamentally different as we think they are.”

The Power of Tricks
Within this story I believe we glimpse the true power of tricks. Today we see the arts of the Showman as mere deception, their shamanistic origins forgotten by Crowds. No wonder, since it has also been largely forgotten by modern showmen. In today's performances we rarely get any hint of the power that once was the main purpose for a trick. I think the difference was the focus on the trick's effect on the observers as a means of transportation or elevation of mind, rather than the trick itself.

It has been suggested by Rogan Taylor in his book ‘the Death and Resurrection Show’ that virtually every trick and discipline of the modern showman has its origin in shamanistic rituals.
Pic from the Skyliners Documentary.
Tightrope walks across deep ravines were performed by Siberian Shamans, rope climbing and trapeze-like feats in Dutch Guiana by Carib shaman apprentices as part of their initiatory rituals. Sword swallowing feats were performed by Zuni Indians in North America. Magic tricks of every imaginable sort: appearances, disappearances, levitations, and so forth, were universal.

In The Death and Resurrection Show, Rogan Taylor tells the story of anthropologist Matilde Stephenson who spent years living with the Zuni Indians. She was shocked and amazed when members of a so-called Sword Swallowing Fraternity swallowed not just one but four swords, swallowed one after the other and retracted simultaneously. She was so amazed by this performance she could hardly believe what she had seen. As a true scientist she began a long and arduous negotiation with the Fraternity to get a private demonstration where she could be more prepared, and therefor more certain, of the veracity of the feats. It turned out that getting a private performance outside of the ritual circumstances was very hard to arrange. The Fraternity did not see any place for the feat without its proper ceremonial setting.
“Only after prolonged efforts, and then purely because the white lady was so well-loved and trusted by the Zuni, one was persuaded to come to her camp. He insisted on strict and absolute secrecy and, even then never felt happy about the whole business. Matilde Stevenson remarked that, “the Indian to this day feels he was guilty of  a great wrong in swallowing the swords without the ceremony which should attend it.” (M. C. Stevenson, The Zuni Indians: Their Mythologies; Esoteric Fraternities and Ceremonies)  
Here we get an insight into what it might have felt like for a shaman to be seen the way we see a showman today; mere entertainment without any deeper meaning or purpose than levity in the moment. To the Zuni sword swallower the trick's potential was now wasted.
The situation and circumstances of rituals were set up to create the right setting for tricks to function like keys to the crowds heart. Once unlocked with the trick's ability to create reverent attention, the shaman could take the observers further, towards healing, unification and insight. 

Today it might seem far-fetched to attribute deep meaning and importance to the tricks of the showman's trade, but in the shaman's tradition these examples of mystery would have been at the center of healing ceremonies at a time when doctor, priest, and showman was the same person. When faith was the strongest remedy in the tool box. Herbal medicine was also in its infancy, but nothing was as powerful as the human rituals.
If the Zuni sword swallower of yesteryear watched a circus today it would might be like watching an orchestra playing but without hearing the music; beautiful and engaging in its choreographed movements but ultimately empty and unfulfilling. Perhaps it is time to bring back the music.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Silly Walks

Why are silly walks so funny? Perhaps because it is so simple. When done properly it just simply is funny, in a "Funny Bones" kind of way.
They say a joke is funny but once but a poke in the eye with a wet sausage is always funny. I take that to mean physical comedy is funny in a similar persistent way a visual illusion persists to confuse your senses every time you see it, even when you know whats going on it keeps being an illusion.

Walking is so familiar, we all know how it is supposed to look. If done cleverly complex yet silly and ongoing it can't not be funny and strangely impressive.
Yet at the same time lurks something dark. Hidden in peculiar perambulation patterns sometimes madness lurks. There is ways of diagnosing neurological disorders by gait. As I was researching the funny side of silly walks I stumbled onto a few. It was not funny. It was sad. It is a fine line to stride along with silly walks.
No doubt that is part of its strange attractions. Silly walking is powerful stuff.

"John Cleese, throughout the sketch, walks in a variety of silly ways (including one that briefly imitates the scissor gait of spastic diplegia), and it is these various silly walks, more than the dialogue, that has earned the sketch its popularity."

I would say even John Cleese was struck by its power. Such a silly sketch became the thing which in many ways defined him.

"In the book The Pythons, members of the troupe indicated that they considered the whole scene nothing more than pure silliness. Cleese in particular seems disheartened that so many fans consider it the troupe's "best" sketch."

Eitherway as the silly walk entrepreneurs Monty Python said so well - Now for something completely different. (But not really, just more of the same.)

The Ministry of Silly Walks, by Monty Python.

Little Tich you might have noticed Michael Palin dressed up as Little Tich in the "historical" footage of silly walks through the ages. (It will reappear in the Live at the Hollywood Bowl clip as well.)

Dean Martins Uncle Leonard Barr does a walk on...

Leonard Barr stand-up comedy. This clip is a mash up. It has a few of Uncle Leonard's sweet moves, dancing and walking eccentric as all that. It also has a talk track of him delivering some real vaudeville comedy gems. It's a little tricky at first but they are both quite something if you persist.

"Cleese has cited the physical comedy of Max Wall, probably in character as Professor Wallofski, as important to its conception." 
 Wikipedia on Ministry of Silly Walks

Max Wall (remixed)

Strictly this is more dancing than walking but it is so fantastically unbelievable that who's gonna get stuck on semantics? Awesome is awesome. Ladies and Gentlemen Al "Rubber Legs" Norman.

The Python's walking silly at the Hollywood Bowl.

From the Independent, 29th of July, 2009.

Mystery solved – by Ministry of Silly Walks

Scientists' experiments with volunteers help prove why we swing our arms

"The mystery of why people swing their arms while walking rather than holding them still and rigid like the famous silly walk of John Cleese in his Monty Python sketch appears to have been solved. An experiment involving making a group of volunteers take equally silly walks in a laboratory setting has confirmed that arm swinging makes walking more efficient and easier.
Although it may seem obvious why people swing each of their arms in opposition to their legs, scientists have puzzled over the practice for many decades because it seemed to serve no mechanical function given that the arms do not touch the ground.
One extreme theory even proposed that arm swinging while walking was hard-wired into the human nervous system and served no modern purpose because it was a vestigial relic left over from when our animal ancestors walked on all fours."

For the full article click here.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Terror of Tiny Town

"Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, we're going to present for your approval a novelty picture with an all midget cast, the first of it's kind to ever be produced. I'm told that it has everything, that is everything that a western should have." 

As the Announcer talks to the viewers he is joined on stage by the movies two protagonists the cowboy in white hat (the good one) and the one in the black (the bad) the two of them gets into a fight about whichone of them is the toughest and with the Announcer as the mediator it is decided they should watch the movie to see who would win in a fight since (spoiler alert) there is a fight between the hero and the villain in the end of this movie.

This is the kind of novelty cinema gold you are about to see - if you dear to venture into Tiny Town.

The worlds only western with an all midget and dwarf cast. Small cowboys singing and riding ponies.

An evil gun slinging midget comes to terrorize the good little people of Tiny Town. The townspeople organize to defeat him, and zany antics ensue.

A snippet of a review...
"To make sure that the audience notices the cast's stature, several tricks were used. Something anyone will notice is that the characters ride Shetland ponies. The choice was probably functional as well as "artistic," because I doubt that Buck could vault atop a normal-sized horse without a trampoline (trampolines were not common in the Old West). Another amusing point is that tough cowboys entering the saloon are forced to reach up and swing the doors open. The diminutive cast members could easily walk under the doors, but swinging them open and swaggering inside is mandatory in a western. Of course, the thirsty saloon patron is then forced to step up onto a bench just to see over the bar...

In fact, what is up with all of the buildings? They are hardly the correct size and dimensions for the populace. Was the town built by giants and then subsequently abandoned, to be eventually repopulated by the townsfolk we see now? What happened to all of the tall people? Why were midgets the only survivors? Perhaps Earth was attacked by piranha birds that flew five feet above the ground, decapitating anything in their way!

Yes, I know that they used an existing western town movie set. Don't you have any inherent suspension of disbelief? The world of "The Terror of Tiny Town" is one entirely populated by midgets. You explain why everything is built for people who are six feet tall."
From a review on

For a video review by Diamanda Hagan check this link out. It starts a little strange, and continues in the same way, it has some nifty cut up of the movie with snappy clips from all over the cinematic world of exploitation film.
AND NOW for the days feature presentation.
Enjoy this sweet novelty movie for as long as you can endure.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Greatest Show on Earth

"How it feels to me, and I guess to you as well, is that the present moves from the past to the future, like a tiny spotlight, inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future."
Richard Dawkins, from Unweaving the Rainbow.

Pic by dandel grosso

The theater is cosmos.
The stage is our world.
The spotlight the ever moving present time.
When it hits the stage you are on.
This is your life.

The theater was erected 
14 billion years ago.
The stage was empty for a billion years
Before The Greatest Show on Earth 
began its continuously running performance  
3.5 billion years ago.  
The longest running season ever.
The first three billion years were a bit boring.  
But things changed with the Cambrian Explosion.
The spotlight of present time has hit many acts
water circus, dinosaur menagerie,
mainly animal acts up until recently.
All players in a never ending soap.

As others' present becomes past
your name is called. 
Your spotlight hits the stage and you are on.

Life is incredible 

The theater clock shows Geological time. Not minutes and seconds but eons and epochs. 
Life is a continuously running vaudeville theater.  
Life, the Greatest Show on Earth, is coming to a theater near you.
I am going to be a player.  
If the spotlight is actual life I'm only alive when I'm in it, and dead for all the rest so I want to make it count.  
My time is brief. 
15 min on the stage of the world. Life lasts from the second the spotlight hits me until I again disappear into darkness.  
Life is like a roll of tape, once unwound it can't be rolled back. You can try but it will never be the same.
So as the boy-scouts say: Be Prepared.
I Remember the Great Santini's five P's: PPPPP = Perfect Planning Prevents Pathetic Performance.

What do I know.
Any act has a beginning, middle and end. 
In theater less is more. In sideshow less is not enough. 
The entrance and exit is very important.
Try and have more than one thing going on at the same time.
Be mindful of the Crowd.
Don't waste your time, or theirs.
When my time comes I want to be ready. I don’t want to get half way through my spot and realize I wasted half my act by not being in the moment. I want to be present in the present, try my best to get it right. Nobody knows whether Management will ever let me back on if, or when, I die on stage.
I want to be prepared, 
I want to connect with the Crowd and my fellow performers, 
and I want to Play.  

I would also like to understand the running order I'm part of. 
I want to know the history of the show and to glimpse its major themes, structure and dramaturgy. 
To understand why the show has been so successful and how it always manages to reinvent itself. 
Its almost been shut down a few times. Last time 65 million years ago. Some say its success is waning at the moment. Apparently there are less and less acts joining and acts are dropping off the bill faster than ever. 
I love the Greatest Show on Earth and I would like my spot to make the show stronger. How awesome if I could help relaunch this show into a new golden age. That would make me feel like my act mattered. 
That is my purpose, to make a difference.
To Crowds, to my fellow Showmen and to the Show.
If it was up to me the Greatest Show on Earth would run forever.

"After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked -- as I am surprisingly often -- why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?"

Monday, 5 March 2012

Mary Ellen Mark`s Indian Circus

Who is Mary Ellen Mark?
"Once voted Most Influential Woman Photographer of All Time by the readers of American Photo, she has spent four decades exposing dark, painful truths about the American nightmare..."

Although she might have captured the broken American dream better than most, here on the Illuminated Showman we will be exploring her travels to India and her passion for their circuses. Something which culminated in the 1993 photographic master piece Indian Circus.
I first came across a copy of the book during the Australian Circus Festival in Lonestar, Tasmania in 2002. The late Great Dr Reg Bolton had a habit of buying circus books whenever he saw them even if he already owned a copy. Then during gatherings of the circus community he would put them down on a table somewhere as a library/bookstore. I bought ninety percent of the books he brought that year. Anyway, I was struck, as most who see it are, by the haunting and rich images. Artists so similar to myself yet so different. Same planet, different worlds.
As much as possible, the text is direct quotes from the photographer herself. Enjoy.

"I love India and I love the circus so photographing eighteen circuses all around India was an incredible experience. Unfortunately, Shyama (the elephant) died a few months after this photograph was taken. Supposedly he succumbed to a poisoned chapatti. Ram Prakash Singh was heartbroken. Me also.”

Image by Tim Mantoani from Behind Photographs

(The excerpts below is from the book if not otherwise stated. You can read the full text here.)
"For me the Indian circuses were reminiscent of a purity of days gone by, an innocence impossible to find in Western cultures."

R.N Thorat, Clown. The Great Rayman Circus, Madras, 1989.
"The hippo is a very pure soul. He has his bath three times a day."
"I fell in love with the Indian circus at the same time that I fell in love with India. It was 1969, my first trip there. I was in Bombay with a friend and we went to see a circus at Church Gate. I was immediately struck by the beauty and innocence of the show. I vividly remember seeing a huge hippo in a pink tutu being coached to walk around the ring with his mouth open. At the end, he (or she) was rewarded with an enormous cotton-candy cone that matched the tutu."

"I always knew that one day I must return to India and devote a long period of time to photographing the circuses there. Finally, in 1989, I was able to fulfill this dream."
"The organization of the project was extremely difficult. Dayanita researched and arranged the entire undertaking. This was very complex, because there are approximately twenty-five big top circuses and many smaller ones, which tour constantly. They might stay in a location from as short a time as two weeks to as long as two months."
"The circuses are very competitive with each other and therefore secretive about their next site. They are also excessively protective, fearing other circuses will steal their performers and, even more importantly, their "items," or acts. Because of this they would often not tell us where they were going until the very last minute. The locations are carefully researched by their proprietors for many qualities, such as their accessibility, the population of the area, the length of time since another circus has visited the town, and how near to the possible location another circus is presently performing. One circus owner was so paranoid that he refused to let us know his location. It was a Bengal circus, and as they have a very special atmosphere, I was absolutely determined to find it. When we finally tracked down the circus several miles outside Benares, all we found was a big empty hole where the big top had been. We were one day too late."
"The circus is an oasis within a country in turmoil; the circus is a cloister within a world of chaos. If some of these dwarfs appear grotesque to us, it is important to realize that within the circus family they are not grotesque, because they are at home.

The Indian circuses reflect an atavistic and compassionate life, which Mary Ellen has depicted with disturbing honesty and compelling affection. Who are most of the acrobats? They are children, mostly girls; for many of them, the alternative to this life would have been begging (or starving) or prostitution. And what is the circus life for them? It is three performances a day, every day. To bed about midnight, up about six. Yet there is only one photograph of an actual performance in this book, for the real life here is not seen in performing; rather it is seen in the daily life in the troupe tents and in the dusty aisles between the tents--it is best seen as a life of practice, and rest, and more practice."

John Irving, from the foreword to the book.

"Photographing the Indian circus was one of the most beautiful, joyous, and special times of my career. I was allowed to document a magic fantasy that was, at the same time, all so real. It was full of ironies, often humorous and sometimes sad, beautiful and ugly, loving and at times cruel, but always human. The Indian circus is a metaphor for everything that has always fascinated me visually."

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Skyliners - the New Funambulists

Funambulist: (fyo͝oˈnambyəlist - noun - A tightrope walker.

Skyliners is a beautifully shot short documentary about a french crew which have combined their loves of mountaineering and tight wire walking. The esthetic and feel is of extreme sports such as basejumping and snowboarding.
It is gorgeously shot and edited by Seb Montaz with helicopter shots and spectacular scenery as the guys rig their lines between the peaks of mountains.
It made my palms sweaty.

 You can check out the funambulist's blog here and to the director's awesome video blog here.

Also here is a trailer for a full length 40 minute doco by Seb Montaz called I Believe I can Fly (Flight of the Frenchies). You can download the movie from Seb's website.