Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holidays on G-String

We imagine our initiated readers, being periodically exposed to our past bizarreries, often complaining the nowadays loss of inusual acts, strange performances, unthinkable talents.
Gone seems the times when words such daring, sexy, mysterious, hilarious, devastating were the brilliant faces reflecting the magic of a same, surreal perfectly cut diamond.
We saved for the holidays one of those pearls.
So we can introduce you to Miss Amy-G, the lady in the picture above. She is not an oddity of the past but a marvel of the presents. She lives with us.
Enjoy her unique talent on the video below.

Happy Holidays

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Charlivels

The golden days of the night-club era

Before the plethora of Eastern acrobats, wannabe magicians and outdated post-burlesque divas, the origins of the night-clubs were studded by outstanding showstoppers.
One of the very first of them, by the late '40s, was the "Charlivels" act. Valentino, Juanito and Charlie jr. (sons of the legendary clown Charlie Rivel), helped to open the way to variety acts in such places as Latin Quarter in New York, Ciro's at Hollywood and the very early Las Vegas lounges, without forgetting to grace european temples as Medrano, London's Talk of the Town, Copenhagen's Schumann, etc.
Here they are, in a tv show from the 60s (we posted the video in 2 parts).

But what they did in their act? Well, just everything.
See by yourself.

Monday, November 17, 2008


We've been missing for awhile, being quite busy at the moment.
This not being a vulgar excuse to abandon you or to uderestimate your appetite for memorabilia.

Waiting for our comeback here, you can highly entertain yourself with the ultimate online divertissement for the serious and competent circus history amateur:

It is a project made possible by the grace of Big Apple Circus. It is curated by historian extraordinaire Dominique Jando, with some participation by ours.
You will be treated with an incessantly-growing cornucopia of texts, video, images and much more.
We hope you will enjoy our work. And your feedback will be highly appreciated.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Elvis mokko

The art of surprising and impress the spectator always falls in predictable categories: magicians, clowns, fakirs, hypnotists, etc.
Our readers knows how much we enjoys to ignore those genres, searching for performers whose art doesn't leave us other possibilities than to avoid the taxonomy.
Today we invite you to make the knowledge of Elvis Mokko, from Mozambico (probably the only novelty act ever from this remote country). He was a regular feature of european night-clubs in the 70s, then turning to theme park and events in Germany.
What he does?
See by yourself from this performance in Cirque d'Hiver, Paris, from the late 70s.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Capitan Wall Gallery

We will never give up to swim into the past in search of one of our most beloved obsessions: crocodile hypnotizers.
Our analyst is still investigating about the reasons of this fascination of ours, that we sincerely hope you endure to appreciate.
Today is the turn of one of the most distinguished heroes in the field at the turn of last century: Capitan Wall. Unfortunately, moving footage doesn't seem to exist.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Of Clothes and Men

The forgotten and unique art of Gerard Sety

Quick-change artists have been a beloved feature of vaudeville, circuses and music-hall stages.
If two Italians must be credited to make of this a true art form worldwide (Leopoldo Fregoli in last century, pictured below, and Arturo Brachetti those days), other singular variations have been around.

Quick-change modern pioneer, Leopoldo fregoli (1900 ca.)

Among obscure rapidity skill of victorian impersonation, oriental mask transformers, papier-maché parodists, Russian walking fashion shows, some singular gem emerges.
One of those was Gerard Sety from France. Mr.Sety, who left this world in 1998, was a French movie actor whose dozens of popular film appearances are credited. But his non-screen identity was tied to an umbelievable cabaret stage act in which he completely revolved the concept of quick-change: in fact it is proper to classify it as a slow-change performer. His 10-minute piece, performed in any language, became in the crescendo an hallucynant masterpiece of pure dadaism.
We had somewhere a version of the act in his integrity, likely the last time in his life he performed it in TV. Even if in Italian language, we are sure that is perfectly enjoyable in his universal crazyness.
Ladies and gentleman, please admire the only and unique slow-change act in the history: Gerard Sety.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The King of Pickpockets (again)

Finally, the full act of Borra

In a realm crowded of crowns, filled with princes, lords and queens, as is the showbusiness world of obscure specialties, we recently twice illustrated as one and only was the sovereign of the artistic appropriation of others' valued properties.
We twice unhearted images of the late Borra, promising more wonders to come. And today you can discover in all his magnificence, his complete act. Crowned with another small gallery of the publicity he was heralded with (and, please, gently remarks the delicious Knie circus poster in which Borra attempts to steals a letter).
We also wish to remember that today Charly Borra, the son of the master, is still touring the planet exhalting the remarkable art of his progenitor (awebsite of him seems forthcoming).

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Boxing Kangaroos

And a special opponent

In the realm of the anthropomorphic circus mythology, the boxing kangaroo represents without any doubt one of the primal icons. The direct opposition between man and beast, framed in the world of sports and leisures, assures to the savage creature the potential of a victory, under the fair eyes of a genuine federal referee.
A small gallery of emblematic boxing kangoroos from various eras, finishing with a filmed witness of one of those fights, with a very distinguished defiant.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Distinctly Deep Throaths

A disappearing race of female swallowing marvels and his hopefully renaissance

As our social ecosystem is deeply changing and revolving, several are the disapperaring forms of life as the most peculiar ways of earnig life itself. One of those in dangerous extinction is the sword swallowing practice. If the masculine tradition can still count few dozens of exponents scarcely scattered around the globe, the gentle sex representants seems nowadays much rare.

In the last century, sideshow platforms, variety stages and modest village squares pullulated of this most sexier emanation of burlesque, where the puritan observer, while enjoyng the thrill of the feat, could safely imagine the most forbidden variations on those ladies whose throats housed every size of iron weapon in multiple numbers and shapes, as well as neon tubes, chair legs, scissors spoons etcetera etcetera. Then, with politically correctness of the fairground and his live entertainments, toward the end of last century more reserved variations on the deep throat imagery excited in the most confortable way the imagery of the adult in private silver screen consumptions.

Today’s pleasant renaissance of burlesque and sideshow culture is inspiring a rebirth of ladies talented in modern mouth miracles. The actual leader of the movement, according our modest judgment, resides in England and is Miss Amy Saunders, aka Miss Behave. She is an immensely talented performer, the most perfect cabaret guest, chanteuse and comedienne, and of course gifted in oral oddities.

We leave you today with a gallery of past braveries (a series of portraits selected and graciously stolen from wonderful, to finish with a clip of Amy accomplishing a singular Guinness record.

And now the clip. Well, Guinnes Record. We agree on how vulgar is to suggest the discovery of an artist with a television game appearance, and we wished to offer you a more theatrical piece from Miss Behave's repertory. The even infinite resources of the "net" don't allow us, and we hope you soon see her live in her most appropriately decadent atmosphere.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An angel of another century

Lottie Brunn and the era of shomanship

Another great performer left this world in the last few days. Lottie Brunn was one of the last witness of last century's great shomanship, when mastering an act was a mysterious formula of tantalizing talent, erotic elegance, raucous rythm. And of all the remaining ingredients to make you believe that the performer was part of another world, the ambassador of a kingdom invented to exhilarate you in a happy evening, to then turn into a gentle ghost to wake you the following morning in a regenerate state of grace, to face the ordinary world.
That was Mrs. Brunn, now in the realm of the legend where her brother Francis was waiting before.
They were in a class before stylized rainbow lycras, elaborate face paintings and sophisticated aseptic soundtracks. They were in a class when performing was a matter of personality, smiles, continuous seduction, masterful interaction with a live swing band, and a concept of costumes as going to a court ball twice daily.
Lottie and Francis are now perhaps doing the same up there, very far in the sky, in the same world where this class can last forever: the class of Borra the king of pickpockets; or the gentleman magician Channing Pollock; of the elegant chaotic George Carl; the absurd but aristocratic dancing Doll Family of midgets; the lord of horsemanship Albert Schumann, or Count Basie and his band. An array of smiles, subtle touches of shomanship, white ties, silk dresses, personal lobby photos polished as new shoes, feats of acrobatics or legerdemain presented with the lightness of a joke, to distracted night-club audiences mesmerized for seven long minutes when the world and all is cold wars seemed to stop.
What a century it was. What performers they were.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Donkey on Ice

The unusual comedy art of Karl Kossmayer and his mule (with a new discovery)

One of the most intense circus experiences of my childhood was the act of the “unrideable mules”: in wich a good dozen of spectators is invited to win a prize if able to complete a ring circle on the back of the savage quadrupede, catastrophically ending with the impossible attempts of a quiet but tenacious old man. Later, you could have spent weeks puzzling if he was a genuine spectator or some kind of strange performer.

For me, the image of the little old gentleman, approaching the ring with his program in the hands, pursued by his wife and finishing to lost his pants, was a shock. A contrast between the greatest humor and a feel of unease; a masterpiece on the border between fiction and reality, completely played on the separation line between the shadowy space of the audience and the bright territory of the performer. Was this man from the circus? Nobody could really answer in front of the immense showmanship of Karl Kossmayer. A perfect illusion in which, long before Wharol, everybody was promised five minutes of celebrity. And, slowly during the act, this little character carried to the ring a perfect history of an universal retired middle-class type, life-dominated by his wife’s discipline, and wasting in few second all his life’s boring dignity to reach the impossible world of the clowns.

This was great drama, revolutioning the roles of the theatre far before the avant-gardes. An actor impersonating a spectator who wants to be an actor, without declaring to be acting… Pirandello was nothing, compared to Kossmayer.

Karl Kossmayer (1917-2000), from a great trainers family, started his act in 1928, and with it toured the globe, generating imitators all around the world. His sister Julie impersonated perfectly “the wife”. Starring with the best jugglers, acrobats, clowns, trainers of his time, his act was so strong on the audience that the only place to put it was mostly to close the program.

The act was filmed by the great Jacques Tati as part of his circus movie “Parade”, in 1974 (mostly of the movie critics are still thinking that this perfect act was a Tati’s idea).

And now, our little discovery.
In fact, we have found also an unusual clip. Kossmayer toured briefly in Usa with Holiday on Ice of 1960. That’s it.
They used to put for few minutes a carpeted circus ring on the ice and display the mule act. And the comedy effect was emphasized immensely when Karl repeatly covered on ice the distance between his loge seat and the circus ring, with a masterful catalog of falls and trips. Unfortunately, his American success was short, because, for safety issue, audience members were discouraged to test their skills with the “dangerous” mule. The homeland of rodeos was starting to be politically correct also for the masters of European circus artistry.

I became friend with Karl in his last years, always sharing wonderful times visiting the Monte Carlo Festival.

Today we wants to divulgate his art to the new generations of the world, with a double tribute: his act in the traditional version, from the mentioned Tati movie; and our discovered excerpt of the way he did it on Holiday on Ice, from a forgotten Ed Sullivan special.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Little Tich and Loie Fuller

The pioneer of clown and the ancestor of dance

We already paied our tribute to Litlle Tich, presenting the irresistible film of his "long boots" act, the first recorded comic movie (filmed in 1900) and, according to Jacques Tati "the root of everything is basic in the art of the comic film".
In times of pionnerism in everything (we are around year 1900), Tich had another illustrious contemporary walking the stages: Miss Loie Fuller, who with his "danse serpentine" revolutioned the concept itself of ballet. The fast, modern dynamism of her variety specialty, with elaborated light effects, was captured in various way: the poster art of Chéret, the early photographers, the study on motion of Tolouse-Lautrec itself and finally a certain Mr.Louis Lumiére who was experimenting on the moving image. In fact, Miss Fuller's act was filmed and hand colored as early as 1898.

Then, the encounter.
Miss Fuller was a star. And Little Tich was the king of parody. They even happened to share the same Folies-Bergères stage. So was almost natural for the great little comic to add in his repertory his version of the Fuller's serpentine dance. And, as for the "big boot", this act too was filmed for the posterity even is less known and very short. It is preserved in some movie archives. According our vocation for wonderous novelties, we searched, find it and posted on youtube.

Now, in the following video windows, please compare the two stars: Loie Fuller's original movie by Lumiére of 1898, and the Little Tich's genial version of 1900.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back on Borra

Not just a pickpocket

The prodigious act of Borra, while based on theatrical pickpocketing, started with excuse for other odd talents, as in the tradition of every great of the variety and circus stage.
The master opened silently his act with an enchanting routine of smoke rings, then with a masterful ball manipulations, always surrounded by the gazes of the circus audience.
We unhearted a too brief excerpt of Borra's opening from a British newreel from the late 40s, when he was appearing at Bertram Mill's Circus, at London's Olympia hall.
And we promptly posted it on youtube, for your pleasure and future memory.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Variation Virtuosisms of Musical Marvels

Asking for your excuse for the past silent week, our appropriate choice is to be loud, turning on music.
Before mp3 and even gramophone, to appreciate the virtuosism of music was necessary to step into the kingdoms of variety, early vaudeville, circus or travelling fair theatres. This was the realm of peculiar instruments or musician virtually unknown by nature or human science.
It was the paradise of foot-bell ringers, elephant orchestras, lilliputian full bands, vegetable players, upside down pianists, unycicle brass ensembles and thousands of other variations.

Today’s gallery is a small tribute to the immense musical population of this era.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Igor Kio, the tzar of illusions

Imperial mysteries of Soviet magic

Today not one but a couple of little gems for the scholars of the unusual, specifically dedicated to the lovers of magic.

When magic was still a flamboyant ingenuous theatre art and the Soviet Circus the largest contingent of bizarre entertainment of the planet, the Kio magic family was not less exagerate in his grandiosity than a zar dinasty.

Igor Kio sen., then his sons Igor jun. and Emil, used to have each a one-hour show filling half of the circus program. Each of them travelling the world with his own staff of magic technicians, magic dancers, magic animals, magic clowns, magic dwarves, band leader conducting a 40-pieces jazz orchestra and the most unimaginable paraphernalia that the sovietic technology could have assured during the cold war to a magic show. In Moscow they had shops and engineers to build continuously new shows and misteriously perplexing apparata. Magic as a metaphor of occult powers of deception from the East? Maybe, if you like it that way.

Here you can witness, even in their brevity, two classic of magic emphasized by the full spectacularity of the socialist realism era, starring Igor Kio jun.

One is the magic of waters turned into ducks. The other one is the most spectacular version ever staged of the “cremation of a woman”, enjoying the height and space possibilities of a round circus ring.

If you like, you will be treated with more.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Bible of the Circus

Now, that’s really big. The size: 20 x 13 x 3.3 inches (50,8 x 33 x 8,4 cm). Just imagine the corresponding weight. Alive in the inside, 900 images, 760 pages. No way to hold it in your hands. The printing, design and fabrication are the best you can even dream.

Circus literature through the centuries is an infinite, exciting and surprising landscape of marvels. But this one risks to be the best circus book ever. If legendary bibliographer Toole-Stoot was alive, he would have jumped from his chair.

Where our inconsiderate enthusiasm generates for “Circus 1870-1950”, just published internationally by Taschen? This book has an interesting approach to the circus, reflecting the identity itself of the big top divertissements: the emphasis on size, richness, exageration, surprise, rarity, colossal cornucopia of never-ending wonders.

The recipe of this masterpiece of a book is just the same of the glorious circuses of a bygone era: assemble the bigger and the best ever. So, take the world’s best publishing house in the field of illustration (Taschen); treat the reader with the finest available paper choice wrapped with a solid, elegant, bible-like cover. Assemble for the first time ever those considered as the four most prestigious circus collections in the world: The Circus World Museum of Baraboo; the Tibbals Collection at the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota; if not enough, the antique prints from the Pascal Jacob – Williams collection at Tohu in Montreal; and, just to top the cake, the generous paraphernalia from not less that Ricky Jay. To write competent essays, the editors (Noel Daniel and Linda Granfield) called the most world-encyclopedic circus historian walking today upon the face of the globe: Dominique Jando, with, as a guest star, the best fact-checker that the sawdust mitology ever knew in his long history, Fred Dahlinger. The picture captions are enhanced by a crowded constellation of small gems: circus-waxing quotes incessantly fleeding thru the pages from the pen of Steinbeck, Hemingway, De Mille, and dozen of others.

Now, this was enough to fill such a project. But is just the beginning. In fact, Taschen digged in other collections revealing in the best splendor possible the great gems of circus photography: legends as F.W.Glasier and E.Kelty. And with them, Mathew Brady, Cornell Capa, Walker Evans, Weegee, Lisette Model, Charles and Ray Eames. The odd and unusual, too: they unearthed never-before seen circus photos taken by a young Stanley Kubrick (!). And, for the first time in print, the first existing colour photos of a circus, with the polaroid series of C.Cushman visiting Ringling’s (a treasure until today hidden at the Illinois University). Jando and Dahlinger investigated the identity of performers and acts compiling precious captions for the reader. The sideshow art is not forgotten: with the works of banner artists Nieman Eisman, Fred G. Johnson, and David "Snap" Wyatt.

Just an example of how surprising is this treasure chest: the following magnificent picture, taken in 1948 at Ringling's circus, is one of the first colour photos of a circus ever taken. But, if this is not enough to amaze, there's something more about it.

In fact, the photographer was a young reporter from "Look" magazine called Stanley Kubrick.

The experience of this book for the circus lover, generates the same awe to stay in front of a Holy Bible for a religious. For those of us that are not initiated to the circus, the sense is probably of the same awe, witnessing here the bizarre repository of a colossal religion, almost gone, but still able to surprise and disturb.

The price is according to the pachidermism of the whole, too: 200 dollars in the Usa or 150 Euros for the european market. But you can be sure that it worths the double.

Oh, and they even remembered our friend Blacaman...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Karandash, a King among Klowns

In concentrating our attentions on the most bizarre anomalies of the performing humanity, too often we forget the beauty of pure comedy.

We promise to our smiling followers to concentrate more of our future researches on peculiar and obscure achievements in the art of laughmaking, possibly in his most virtuosistic and inusual ways. For the followers of this speciality, we also remember you the existence of our friend sites, and, more faithfully devoted to clowns.

Today we unearth a Soviet clip of the 50s: a circus reprise of Karandash (Mihail Rumyantsev, 1901-83), the pioneer of the legendary russian clowning, from a documentary of the time.

His artist’s name means “pencil”: his speciality was the social and political parody (often of the strongest ans shocking nature), as a sort of living cartoon strip, against capitalism and western society. Nothing apparently remains today to witness this strange kind of clowning confusely based on Hitler pigs, Uncle Sam’s pagliaccis and similar strange gags. The only, rare, surviving Karandash material is classic clowning, but at his best.

Karandash started as a Chaplin emule, to quickly develope his own style and tour the world with the Soviet State Circus companies. We hope he will amuse you still today, as he did for millions around the globe.

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