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#118. The Circus

Step right up, folks! Welcome to the precursor of visual effects and the multi-theatre format. This summer blockbuster venue would come into town each year and set up to entertain the masses. Different attractions fill the many rings of the circus, so you can watch whatever you want, whether it’s dangerous animal taming or high-flying acrobatics! But don’t forget about the sideshows that are filled with makeup-laden clowns, magicians practicing sleight-of-hand, as well as deformities the likes of which you’ve never seen. Of course, don’t forget about the midway, which has since evolved to the small arcades present in movie theatre lobbies. See? Even though modern movies evolved from stage-plays, there are many elements that were taken from the circus. This week’s two films show us the magic involved with the circus.

A Bug’s LifeA Bug's Life
Year: 1998
Rating: G
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

If there’s a defining feature of a circus, it would have to be the diverse amount of talent that resides within the many rings of its tented coverings. There are the superhuman abilities of the strong men, the dexterity and agility of the acrobats, the slapstick hi-jinks of the clowns, the mystical sleight-of-hand of the magicians, and the fearless resolve of the animal tamers. Each one of these individuals brings a different skill to the table that can be used to entertain. And yet, when put toward other purposes, these talents can be used to accomplish almost anything that these performers put their minds to. Even though the circus bugs in A Bug’s Life are a small part of the plot as a whole, their contributions to the cause of the oppressed ants certainly prove their use in ways that lie outside the standard boundaries of the circus tent.

Imagine you’re a part of a struggling circus comprised of a variety of bugs. While the crowds in the city are sparse (and usually just a bunch of rowdy flies), when an ant from a far away colony comes with a job offer, you’d better take it! Of course, what was understood to be a gig to entertain the hordes of ants turns out to be anything but. There’s no time for entertainment as these ants are fighting for their lives and are hoping that you’ll bring some warrior skills to the battle against some grasshoppers who are set to come and take all of the ants’ food by the end of fall. But since there’s no money in it for you, the circus packs up and leaves, since the misunderstanding has been cleared up. And yet, what’s the right thing to do? After a conscience check, you’re all back at the anthill to use your skills to take on the grasshoppers.

The Greatest Show on EarthThe Greatest Show on Earth
Year: 1952
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours

When you think of the circus, you immediately think of Ringling Brothers. When you think of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, your mind will immediately go to their slogan, “The Greatest Show on Earth”. But one would ask, “What makes it the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’?” Is it the animals, the acrobats, the sideshows, or the clowns? I would wager that those elements help to create a great show, but in order for it to be acknowledged as the “Greatest” requires a bit more. What really makes it the “Greatest Show on Earth” is the people who put their blood, sweat, and tears into both their performances as well as running the circus as a whole. Like any machine of excellence, it can only run to its maximum effect if every part is working together. This Best Picture winner shows just what it takes to put on the Greatest Show on Earth.

I can’t say it any better than DeMille’s opening remarks, “We bring you the circus – that Pied Piper whose magic tunes  lead children of all ages, from 6 to 60, into a tinseled and spun-candied world of reckless beauty and mounting laughter; whirling thrills; of rhythm, excitement and grace; of daring, en-flaring and dance; of high-stepping horses and high-flying stars. But behind all this, the circus is a massive machine whose very life depends on discipline, motion and speed . . . a mechanized army on wheels that rolls over any obstacle in its path . . . that meets calamity again and again, but always comes up smiling . . . a place where disaster and tragedy stalk the Big Top, haunt the backyards, and ride the circus rails . . . where Death is constantly watching for one frayed rope, one weak link, or one trace of fear. A fierce, primitive fighting force that smashes relentlessly forward against impossible odds: That is the circus. And this is the story of the biggest of the Big Tops . . . and of the men and women who fight to make it — The Greatest Show on Earth!”

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 cinematic circuses

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4 responses to “#118. The Circus

  1. Pingback: End of Act Three | Cinema Connections

  2. Pingback: #073. Charlton Heston | Cinema Connections

  3. Pingback: #259. Andrew Stanton | Cinema Connections

  4. Pingback: #293. Lions | Cinema Connections

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