Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Human Hydrants

Our first glimpse into an extinct specialty.

We know to be a little late this week, but always remember that we don't forget you.
In the last days we've been scouting the world for some surviving eminences of the specialty called "human hydrant". This is a very old branch of the entertainment, very well known to aficionados of circus, sideshows and magic, and widely covered by the specific literature in the last five centuries.
The only living active performer surviving at our knowledge is Anatoli Yukhov, from Moscow Circus. As is colleague ancestor Aly Adji, he is able to engurgitate gallons of water, then gallons of kerosene, and finally set a fire a miniature house then to safely extinguish safely flames. We saw it few years ago, without believing our eyes. If we are correct, he should be performing this season in Germany touring with Siemoneit-Barum Circus.

In the future, we promise you both the moving images of both Adji Aly and Mr.Yukhov.

For the moment, enjoy Winston, from an unknown corner of darkest Africa:

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Fabulous Flavour of Female Force

Strong women, Sexual Confusion and Telephone Books

With the spread of sports and physical pastimes, around the 1890s circuses and music-hall encouraged and emphasized the ultimate erotic fascination for both sexes: strong women.
The most famous of them was without doubt Katie Brumbach from Austria who, capitalizing on her most celebrate male colleague, christened herself Sandwina with rounds of applause on stages and big tops of both emispheres.
Strong women continued to punctuate the live entertainments, even if the movies mythized them in more actual forms, from Russ Meyer's killer pussycats to George Romero's female chaingangs.

In the age of communication, technology changed undirectly the shape of the strong woman act. In fact, without the invention and the quick success of the telephone, we don't think would have been possible the invention of a rare sub-speciality: the queens of phone book tearing. This slow, sinuous and deep use of arms, hands and feminine fingers became the heaven of fantasy for the last circus and vaudeville goers.

Today's gallery glorifies the rare prominences and the gentle survivors of this ultimate celebration of female strenght.

In the picture, Katie Sandwina.

Peculiar Strongwomen gallery 1: Sandwina

Sylvia Brumbach

We remember Miss Brumbach in the 80s as the brave target of one of the best knife-throwing act.
She recently turned herself into a "strong woman", regenerating a venerable and rare act: the telephone book tearing. She performs in British circuses.

As the careful reader can remark by her name, Miss Brumbach is likely the direct heir of Sandwina.

Johan Rhodes

Johan Rhodes, the perfect burlessque-age phonebook tearer from the 50s British music-hall era.

Joan giving the illusion of male domination few years before the new feminism spread.

Jeanin Lionett (with video)

The lady in this seductive posture, in front of her gentle servant, is Jeanin Lionett, from Denmark (and from the deepest of our archives). She emerged from a page of the Hansa-Theater (Hamburg) program of June 1986, when we saw her.
Hansa-Theatre was a deliciously decadent music-hall, changing program each month by more than a century, introducing aged ladies on trapeze, faded poodle trainers, obscure minor Moroccan gymnasts, out of fashion musical clowns or East German athletes on bicycles. The program with Mr.Lionett was the 893th edition of this monthly show: surely the oldest running on this and other planets. A live band was not missing.
We remember Miss Lionett's act (billed at "20.06 Uhr" on the program's timeline) punctuated in the half-empty audience by the gasps of aged German ladies of uncertain sexual identity.
Few years ago, we surprisingly discovered Miss Lionett still in activity, in the British TV show "Secret Cabaret", happy to see again her act unchanged in each detail (same obedient servant in tuxedo included), after almost twenty years.
More surprisingly, we recently discovered that somebody posted this on Youtube. And here it is (even if mispelled), for your delight and your darkest fantasies on the edges between female and masculine.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The fabulous Cristiani brothers

A gallery remembering one of circus' greatest legends

In our space devoted to the most peculiars among unlikeliest, can seem strange to consacrate a gallery to the most ordinary of the extraordinaries: acrobats.
But the Cristianis, in the 1930s and 1940s, happened to be one the most talented performing circus families of all times. This happened when a branch of this enormous Italian dinasty (hundreds of Cristianis survives in the business in both emispheres) crossed the ocean in the late 30s. This was the family of Ernesto Cristiani, father of ten sons. And this so generous performing progeniture can be the first peculiarity. Each of them was outstanding in their art. Of course, such a large family owned a circus. In the late 30s, invited to perform at the famed Cirque Medrano in Paris, they was remarked by an American agent for Ringling bros., and the legend began. In obscure times preparing for Italy, take the sea seemed an interesting possibility. While it is common in the circus the versatility of performers in the various specialities, the Cristiani excelled in everything they did: teeterboard acrobatics (when this was still a rarely practiced stunt), jumping over elephants, but above all horseback acrobatics. Probably the best horseback acrobats the world ever saw. Among them, the legendary Lucio Cristiani, the only of two men in the world to accomplis a somersault from the firts to the third gallopping horse, and the only one to accomplish a double twist pirouette horseback (see picture).
As if not enough, in the 50s they opened their own circus in America, that became one of the best and largest motorized circuses of the era, with top performers and a large menagerie.
At the novelties and wonders of the Cristiani is devoted this week's gallery.
With a surprise at the end: the complete short movie shooted about them by MGM for the famous Pete Smith's Specialties serie.
You won't believe your eyes.

Cristiani gallery 1

Cristiani gallery 2

Cristiani gallery 3

Cristiani gallery 4: the teeterboard

Cristiani gallery 5

Cristiani gallery: the movie

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Polydactyl Pioneer of Comedy

Freak, comedy, novelty: a gallery and a movie relic about the legendary Little Tich

The movie we shows you today, at the bottom of our gallery, is short as his solo star.
After the performance your about to see, the man starring was made Officier of the French Academy.
It is a mix acrobatic, freakery, physic anomaly, comedy, dance. And a bit of scientific virtuosism: in a time when the cinema barely existed, the sound (basic if you wanted to film a music-hall act), was recorded on a wax cylinder and syncronized.

“A foundation for everything that has been realised in comedy on the screen”.
This is how Jacques Tati described this Little Tich’s Big Boot Dance film made by Clement Maurice for the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre in 1900.

The sixteenth of his brothers, Harry Relph (1867-1926) he was a polydactyl: was born with six digits on each hand and six toes on both feet.
From his earliest professional performance his deformity and lack of height (four feet six inches when fully grown) were emphasised for publicity reasons, although he always resented being promoted as a grotesque.
Around 1884 he had developed a speciality dance in which he appeared to defy gravity, either leaning forward at a precarious angle or balancing on the tips of 28 inch wooden boots. Charlie Chaplin is said been insipred by Little Tich’s boots for his character.
Later, Drury Lane pantomimes established him as one of Britain's foremost comedians, and an engagement at the Folies-Bergère in 1896 was the first of many appearances in the French capital. Little Tich sang many comic songs and was a skilful instrumentalist, but his greatest successes were furiously energetic dances in which he often burlesqued female dancers.
He later starred in three other short movies (one for colleague pioneer Gerorges Meliés), but they are probably lost. As lost soon became the music-hall specialty universe and this class of novelty talents.

Little Tich Gallery

Little Tich Gallery: the female impersonations

Little Tich Gallery: the big boots

A set is preserved at the London Theatre Museum. Aonther one, probably the oldest one, I saw at the private circus museum of Alain Frére, in France.

Little Tich Gallery: the video

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