This week, PBS is unveiling a new documentary rolling up the big top for a look inside. I recently attended a preview of this new documentary, Circus, which tracks the Big Apple Circus from the early concepts of the show, through rehearsals and staging, and finally inside the ring in front of the crowds.
We went to see the Big Apple Circus when my daughter was three years old (read my review), and judging from the live tidbits we saw of the lastest show, I think it’s about time to take her back. It’s a nice, intimate circus, where the acrobats are hugely talented and the clowns are classically funny. Producers Maro Chermayeff and Jeff Dupre talked about how they chose to follow Big Apple Circus for three reasons: it’s a one-ring European-style circus, the show uses only domesticated animals, and the performers come from multi-generational circus families. They were born to do this work.
The Circus preview included about a half-hour of clips from the six-hour documentary. I was very glad to have seen this preview, both because it intrigued me to see more, and because it point-blank convinced me not to watch it with my daughter. For as much as the circus is about family, the documentary is geared towards older circus fans. Not only does it expose the pressure and hard work of the performers, as with the juggling Lasalle brothers who were having their ambitions come between them as performers and as brothers, but there are subplots that you wouldn’t expect. Much of the preview highlighted an incident where one of the crew members was arrested for the veiled bomb threats he was making to his coworkers. I don’t blame the filmmakers for going with such a scintillating story, the signs of a compelling documentary, I just hope they make it clear that Circus is not for all ages.
Circus premieres over the next three Wednesdays, November 3, 10, and 17 on PBS.