Archive for Circus and Carnivals

You wanted ’em? We got ’em! Come see the amazing FREAKS!

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Gail Potocki, San Diego Comic Con, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on 8 April, 2013 by SeanChase

The days of circuses, carnivals, vaudeville, cabarets, and early cinema have always held a hypnotic sway over me and I’ve been obsessed with them since my childhood.  Of particular interest are the sideshow attractions and freak shows.  The wondrously bizarre, beautiful, and grotesque world of sideshow freaks has been a source of fascination and controversy from the time of their inception in the 19th Century, though circuses themselves date back to ancient Graeco-Roman traditions.  While today we may not have direct access to the theatrical spectacle of circus sideshows, at least not the ones that proliferated in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and which focused on physical abnormalities, we do have certain portals into that world of entertainment that existed in the dark shadows of The Big Top.  Aside from modern sideshow attractions, which focus more on physical performance than physical deformity, there have been numerous films and works of art that have attempted to pay homage or preserve the atmospheric ambiance, the eccentric characters, and unbelievable world of circuses and their inhabitants.  Perhaps the strange allure of the sideshow can be reduced to the simple dynamics of exhibition and exploitation, but then again, most forms of art and expression can.  What is it that makes carnivals and circuses so tantalizingly mysterious to the outside world?

Perhaps the circus is the exaggerated reality that lies just beyond the periphery of our accepted social sphere.  It at once allows us a glimpse into an environment where everything is heightened, pushed to the limit (and sometimes far surpasses it), and while things may be familiar, nothing is really the same as in the lives that we know.  Though it isn’t feasible to escape our frustratingly mundane personal realities and simply “run away to join the circus”, it is possible to seek inspiration and escapism within the world of freaks and carnies.  Taking inspiration from this spectacular world is exactly what Gail Potocki has done.  Begun in 2009, the Freaks portraits series is an ongoing project for Gail, and only a few of her amazing portraits have been revealed and even more have yet to be created.  The brilliant portraits are like a peephole into the circus tents of the past.  Not only do they shine the spotlight on some truly unusual characters, but they also expose their humanity in a way that is both profound and endearing.  Each portrait embraces its subject as an individual, both celebrating their differences and acknowledging their humanity, and all the while doing so in a playfully creative manner that is fitting of Gail’s symbolist style.

The first five "Freaks" paintings by Gail Potocki!

The first five “Freaks” paintings by Gail Potocki!

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Welcome to the Freakshow!

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Exploitation Films, Gail Potocki, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on 2 March, 2012 by SeanChase

Deep down, I think we all have an attraction to the strange and unusual.  Some people don’t want to admit it and others will just as soon look away in disgust or horror, but in actuality, for a number of reasons, those that we regard as different or as strange and unusual hold a fascination for us.  Despite our best efforts, it’s still difficult not to stare awkwardly at those who live beyond the “norm” of society, those that don’t match our cultural and social expectations, or those who merely look different from us.  Often we resort to insulting terms such as “weirdos”, “creeps”, or “freaks” to describe these people whom we fail to understand.  But perhaps the greatest reason that we have this love/hate relationship with them is because they remind us of ourselves.

Perhaps there is no greater example within contemporary culture of our dualistic reaction to the social outsider than the 1932 Tod Browning horror-melodrama Freaks.  The film, which has become beloved by some and reviled by others, is considered one of the first true cult classics and even today it still manages to pack a punch.  The story is a deceptively simple tale about the companionship of a small group of sideshow performers and what happens when their inner circle is threatened by “normal” folk – the other great outsider.  One of the aspects of the film that created such an outrage and controversy when it was initially released was the fact that unlike almost any other film of its day, director Browning chose to use real life human anomalies to portray the characters of the story.

Today, this makes the film an interesting contradiction in that it is at once both an exploitation film and an empathetic look at the lives of those who are rejected by the mainstream culture.  However, ironically the film which served as a cautionary tale about judging one based upon appearances was almost unanimously panned by critics who had no desire to see “living monstrosities projected on the screen“.  During later years as viewers re-examined this flawed masterpiece of vintage shock cinema, they were struck by the seeming contradiction of a film that exploits the subjects that it attempts to advocate.  In spite of this controversy and indeed partially because of it, the film has endured for 80 years now and is regarded as a classic of horror cinema.

Director Tod Browning and a few members of his beloved consortium of freaks.  This promotional photo was taken on the set of the 1932 film, which would gain notoriety among filmmakers and critics, as well as shine a light (a somewhat unflattering one) on what goes on behind the scenes at the circus sideshow.

Yet the real stories of the sideshow freaks and the characters that populated the world of the carnevale spectacular are perhaps just as unbelievable and shocking as those of their fictional counterparts in Browning’s Freaks.  These “freaks” and others have been resurrected via the skilled hand of modern symbolist painter Gail Potocki in a series of paintings that must be seen to be believed.  So, if you dare read on, and you must, I shall share with you a glimpse into a world of grotesqueries, oddities, and anomalies that once scandalized the general public and left the faces of outsiders forever emblazoned in the minds of the world.

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