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Circus - DVD Review

4 stars


Circus PBS Movie Review

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Running away to join the circus used to mean something in our society.  It was a rejection of the norm; a declaration of a belief in the intrinsic ability to entertain one another.  Today, we have become pretty much become immune to the value found in circus entertainment and see it more as a throwback to the long ago time of “Remember When”.  The circus is still around, though. It’s not entirely comfortable with its nostalgic labeling either. What directors Maro Chermayeff and Jeff Dupre want to make perfectly clear to you with their 6-hour PBS documentary, entitled Circus, is that the world – no matter how modern it gets - always keeps coming back to - or threatening to join - this Big Top spectacle.

No matter where you are in America, somewhere there is a circus entering a town.  It’s a family-friendly tradition that speaks volumes of our love affair with the season of fall.  Full of dreamers and social rejects, nothing beats its entertainment value – especially among the young - but increasingly these traveling groups are finding it harder to exist and simply fold up their tents and return to a life they chose to deny themselves. It’s this merging of dreams and reality that presents the drama of Circus; a documentary that colorfully focuses on one troupe of circus performers known as the Big Apple Circus, a European-styled one-ring heart stopping show.

Apparently, the filmmakers spent a year with this traveling group of performers and covered their impressive 350 shows with their camera.  Myths are confirmed, drama unfolds, and the money woes present simply build up one big ol’ knot in the audience’s throat.  Yeah, it’s a tough job and, as it turns out, fewer and fewer people are willing to make the sacrifice required to keep the circus going.  Most of the stories – especially the story about one man’s desire in becoming a circus clown – will inspire you with their dedication as they travel the corners of America doing what they love.  Some will embarrass you and then others, specifically the story of twin jugglers growing apart, might appear to be funny on the surface, but then shock you with the very nature of their honesty.

Shot by Matthew Akers and Robert Hanna, Circus is a photographic marvel to behold.  Bright with color and texture, the shots – even in its overuse of split screen - that compose the heart of the documentary are simply marvelous with their use of spatial detail and crispness.  Some frames of the documentary are even iconic at times with their bold definition working to build the emotion of a sequence.  The photography, at times, seems to be working harder than the overall narrative thread of Circus, which opens – a little too falsely – with, of all things, a bomb threat.

Chermayeff and Dupree are not as hallowed toward their subject as, say, Ken Burns might have handled the circus, and that’s perfectly fine. The sentiment – in spite of all the MTV-like gloss - is still there.  We get it, this isn’t a glamorous life.  It’s rough and broken and only for a certain type of person and – ironically enough – this works to make the film – when it begins to sputter out - all the more interesting. Maybe, at times, Circus is too trying an experience for those without patience, though. It certainly doesn’t have a focused theme; it delves too deeply into the lives of these performers to remain level-headed about what its trying to say as a film.

Yes, the sheer number of working performers in the circus is dwindling across America.  And, true enough, these are tough economic times for anyone trying to earn a buck with a talent that requires a live audience.  Yet, one thing is made perfectly clear during this documentary: Circus, even when it loses its gusto, is about family.

Circus premieres on PBS at Wednesday at 9 p.m. and continues Nov. 10 and Nov. 17.


Component Grades
Movie
DVD Disc
4 stars
4 stars
DVD Experience
4 stars

DVD

DVD Details:

Available on Blu-ray - November 9, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles
: English
Audio:
English stereo
Discs: 360 minutes on 3 Discs
Buy the DVD: shopPBS.org

Supplements:

Special Features:

The 3-disc DVD set includes more than an hour of additional content, including intimate character profiles, behind-the-scenes footage of circus life, the filmmakers on location across America, and much more.

Episodes include:

  • First of May
  • One Ring Family
  • Change On
  • Survival of the Fittest
  • Born to be Circus
  • Down the Road

This DVD features subtitles in English (SDH)

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