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.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Defying the Bullets

Heroes and tragedies of the legendary “bullet catch trick”

Don't try the bullet-catching trick. There is always the biggest kind of risk that some dog will 'job' you. And we can't afford to lose Houdini. Harry, listen to your friend Kellar, who loves you as his own son, and don't do it!”
(Letter from magician Harry Kellar to Houdini)

In 1918, few years before this letter, magician Chung Ling Soo was killed onstage during his most popular act, “Condemed to Death by the Boxers”: or, catching a bullet from a rifle with his teeths. Perhaps the best known famous tragedy from the golden era of stage entertainment, this was not at all the first of his kind.

Performing the same feat, in 1820s Torrini “count” de Grisy shot on stage his own son; his contemporary De Linsky killed his wife. Before them, as back as 1613, Coulew de Lorraine was killed by an assistant; later, Kia Khan Kruse by a spectator in 1818, and Edvin Lindberg in 1905. The mentioned De Linky shot himself in 1820. Arnold Buck (1840) died when a volunteer secretly added nails to the gun; Adam Epstein (1869), used to ram home the balls in the rifle barrel, broke inside the gun; he was killed by wand shards. Raoul Curran was killed in 1880 by a member of the audience who jumped up out of his seat and shot him without warning; deLine Jr (1890) died when his magician father shot him onstage. Michael Hatal (1899) failed to switch blank cartridges for the real bullets that killed him; Otto “Bosco” Blumenfeld (1906) also failed to switch bullets as, later, H. T. Sartell; "The Black Wizard of the West" (1922) lost his life when his wife purposely fired live bullets at him. Ralf Bialla (1972) fell off a cliff because of constant dizziness caused by injuries from bullet catching act; Doc Conrad (1977) was killed during practice of the Russian Roulette trick, a version of the Bullet Catch; Fernando Tejada (1988) killed onstage during a performance in Columbia.

With much more chance and success, fortunately is also possible to attempt a list of survivors in magically catching a bullet, even if the catalogue is shorter. It can be unespectedly initiated by Sergeant Philip Astley, the very same inventor of the moder circus, that in the 1780s falsely proclamed to be the inventor of this more ancient trick. John Henry Anderson, great wizard of the North safely popularized it; as J.E. Robert-Houdin, Alexander and brave Adelaide Hermann.

Then, in the slowly fading of magic golden era, Theo Annemann, Rooklyn with his shoulders protected by a chainmail, Jean Hugard with the South African army pointing at his heart, the spectacular Ralf Bialla from Germany, Milbourne Cristopher, Dorothy Dietrich, Paul Daniels, up to today’s Penn and Teller with their remarkable version.

But a lesson in showmanship performing this piece of magic can be surely have an example in master British mentalist Maurice Fogel: we recently discovered him in the “bullet catch” from a rare vintage newsreel.

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