was a time when lion-trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams was a regular on the Tonight Show and received flattering
portraits in Sports Illustrated.
Today, media appraisal of circus people falls somewhere on the spectrum between
Benito Mussolini and Jack the Ripper. You can sort of see the shift of attitude
in Icelandic director Benedikt Erlingsson’s circus-focused feature length clip
package culled from the National Fairground Archives in the freshly liberated
Great Britain. Get your sad clown face on for Erlingsson’s The Show of Shows (trailer here), which screened during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.
will be Sigur Rós fans who will most enjoy Show,
thanks to the trance-ish electro score co-composed by band-members Georg Holm
and Orri Páll Dýarson along with Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and Kjartan Dagur Holm,
rather than circus folk. Just about everyone else will quickly start to drift
as the thematically divided mastercut of vintage circus and carny footage
starts to wash over them.
Erlingsson’s sort of cheats right from the start with a section devoted to
dancers. Snake dancers maybe, but ballroom dancers? Maybe it’s a Scandinavian
thing. He avoids the exploitative side shows (but Tod Browning’s cult classic Freaks also screened at this year’s
Fantasia, so we’re covered), while casting a somewhat politically correct idea
on the animal training acts.
there are some crazy (and sometimes acceptably amusing) visuals in Show. To some extent, it summons hazy
memories of a simpler era, when lions were expected to earn their keep by
letting chipper young woman stick their empty heads in the beasts’ mouths,
rather than just unproductively laze about their natural habitat. However, the
film’s tone of hipster detachment will likely satisfy neither the nostalgic or
the morally apoplectic.
this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Show
of Shows screened one day as a looped installation, which is probably a
better way of presenting it. You can definitely pop in for twenty minutes and
get most of what there is to engage with in the film. Still, the dark aural
palette scored by Holm et al gives the film the feeling of a deep bottom.
Editor David Alexander Corno also stiches it together in a manner that flows
smoothly and logically.
Those who were won over by Erlingsson’s droll
and vermouth-dry Of Horses and Men will
be thrown by this departure. Frankly, it is hard to recommend to a target
audience, since it is murkily unclear just who it was intended for. Still, it
is likely to pop up again somewhere following its Canadian premiere at this
Labels: Documentary, Fantasia '16, Scandinavian Cinema