New World Circus @ Ovada Gallery, Oxford / ov19

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With thanks to contortionist Emmi Ogle, and to Astrid Bowron & Sophie Williamson for additional photography .

A Season of Circus Films selected by John Goto
screened to coincide with the New World Circus exhibition at Ovada

La Strada   dir Federico Fellini 1954, Italian   104 mins

A key movie both in terms of Fellini's development, and the genre.   Centred on the relationship between the brutal Zampano, played by Anthony Quinn, and the unforgettable white-faced clown Gelsomina, the creation of Guilietta Masina, the film explores the romantic agony of their ill matched relationship.   Drawing on the language of silent cinema, Masina's expressions flicker constantly between joy and sorrow, tenderness and tragedy. For 'La Strada,' composer Nina Rota provided one of his most haunting melodies, played on solo trumpet, which echoes across the bleak landscape through which the performers travel.


Santa Sangre dir Alejandro Jodorowsky   It   1989    123 mins

Not for the faint hearted this bloodthirsty tale of incestuous desire, religious ecstasy, and sadistic revenge.   A circus knife-thrower succumbs to temptation and cuts his wife's arms off, only to be mutilated himself by his tattooed mistress.   Their son Fenix is reunited with his mother in later years, after his release from an asylum. He becomes her new arms and wreaks a terrible revenge in the streets and brothels.   The film's grotesque humour undercuts this circus of cruelty, leaving us wondering about the cults of martyrs and saints to which it clearly refers.


Sawdust and Tinsel   dir Ingmar Bergman   1953 Swe   96mins

An early work by Bergman, at its centre is a discussion of the relative qualities of theatre and circus.   A small travelling circus is left destitute after a ruinous storm and the circus master has the idea of reviving their fortunes by borrowing some costumes from a local theatre, and staging a grand parade through the town.   Intrigues between artistes and actors are further complicated by the circus master's visit home to the respectable wife he has abandoned for a life on the road.   The dreamlike sequence of the white-face clown's wife, bathing with the regiment, is justly celebrated.


The Circus dir Charlie Chaplin 1928 USA 70mins

Chaplin brilliantly reworks traditional circus acts to create a memorable comedy.   Charlie is chased through a hall of mirrors and trapped in a lion's cage; the climax coming when, on a tight rope with falling trousers, he battles with a mischievous monkey.   All this is framed by a romantic story of unrequited love.   The movie was written by Chaplin and Joseph Plunkett , and is considered one of his funniest.



Les Enfant du Paradis   dir Marcel Carne   1945   Fr   187 mins

The film is set around the Parisian theatre in 1828 and tells the story of a beautiful courtesan, Garance, and the four men who love her in their own ways: a mime artist, an actor , a criminal and an aristocrat . It also embraces the world of carnival, and pre-circus Commedia dell'Arte through the character Baptiste Deburau, a moon-faced Pierrot Lunaire.   The depth of characterisation and the epic scope of this film single it out in cinema history, and indeed it was voted "Best French Film of the Century" in a poll of 600 French critics and professionals in 1995.

If you missed John Goto's New World Circus during its UK tour, then see it here