Wednesday, March 04, 2015


Over the weekend I payed a visit to Steve Worth's Animation Archive and he kindly let me take snapshots of a few posters in his oversized circus book. 

One of my favorite pictures was of a lion taming act (above). I saw acts like that when I was a kid and they really did take place in a big circular cage and it really did contain lots of cats at the same time, though not as many as in the poster. Working with that many cats is dangerous since it's hard to avoid turning your back on them, and the poor cats are probably irritable from being so close to each other. 

 And talk about crowding...pity the humans as well as the animals! People are shoulder to shoulder in these pictures. Actually, in spite of the inconvenience, I believe in funneling crowds through relatively narrow spaces if it can be done safely. It makes getting where you're going an adventure and provides lots of opportunities for people watching. You just need to have lots of diversions along the way. 

I also like the fact that the cages are on raised platforms close to the pedestrians, and not way back in the distance on a flat floor. 

I wonder why circuses ran into trouble. There are probably lots of reasons, one of which might be competition from carnivals. Carnivals are  cheaper to mount because they put more emphasis on sideshows and rides. People like sideshows. 

They want to see acts up close. When you sit in a gallery in a giant tent or a stadium you're too far removed from things. Of course, you're less likely to encounter skilled performers in a sideshow. 

Sideshows attracted weird, one-of-a-kind performers. Here's seven women who the poster alleges entertained the crowned heads of Europe with their hair. Haw! Maybe they did a static electricity act...naw, they were probably too classy for that. Maybe they acted out stories from the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson.

Aerial shows worked fine indoors. You probably imagine that the poster
exaggerated the number of performers...

...but maybe it didn't. Circuses played in some pretty big venues.

Seeing pictures like this makes me think that circuses might have caused their own demise by being too big and expensive. How many people could afford a show like this during The Great Depression?  Carnivals made it easier for people to spend at whatever level they could afford.

I wish mini stadiums like this one (above) hadn't gone out of fashion. Mens athletic clubs used to favor this kind of indoor theatre. You could stage Hamlet, equestrian shows, boxing matches and small circuses in them.

Monday, March 02, 2015


Here's a magazine clipping showing the apartment of Beatrice Wood, a local potter and a devotee of Hindu art. Wood was 104 years old when this picture was taken and she died only a year later. Boy, she knew how to decorate! She took a simple corner of a room and made it come alive with interesting color and shapes. 

For comparison, here's (above) an earlier photo of Wood's apartment...Wood herself included... and the room around her has none of the appeal of the opening photo. Everything is dark and splotchy and the large pictures make the room seem small. Maybe some of that is the consequence of bad flash photography, but even so...what happened!?

My guess is that in the case of the large bright photo at the top a professional decorator got involved. The decorator favored smaller pictures and arranged them differently, added a few bookcases, improved the lighting, moved the sofa farther out into the room, added color to the sofa, and lightened up the statuary on the shelf. 

Geez, a professional touch made all the difference. Interesting, huh? 

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Like so many others I'm a huge fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. I won't include many photos of the ride. In photography the ride appears to be a series of static department store window displays and it really is much more than that. The sounds and smells, the tactile sensations of boat and wind and temperature, and the feeling brought on by artfully contrasting 3D enclosures are so important to the experience that photos are inadequate to describe what's going on.

The ride breaks down into several parts: I) the Blue Bayou swamp, 2) the extended trip through the pirate cave,  3) the battle between the pirate ship and the Spanish fortress, 4) the sack of Port Royal, and 5) an extended trip under the wharfs of the burning city.

The highlights of the ride for me are the two "extended" mood pieces involving the cave and the wharf. On paper they probably seem like unnecessary digressions and I wouldn't be surprised if some of Disney's people argued for a more consistent, more story driven approach. Walt was right, though. The best rides are about mood and subtext.

I imagine the roller coaster-like trip through the cave was a necessity brought on by the need to move the boats to a large building outside the park. What impresses me is that Walt made a virtue of necessity by making the details of the trip so interesting.

Somebody must have researched what real caves were like. These aren't just slap-dash contrivances on chicken wire frames, these are atmospheric recreations of real caves which were not made for the convenience of man.

There's a poignancy to it, a feeling that the world is staggeringly beautiful and full of menace at the same time. For me the periodic displays of skeletons and pirate loot are just icing on the cake.

The battle between ship and fortress is reminiscent of Conrad's moody description of a sea to shore battle in "Heart of Darkness." Ships sometimes had bigger guns than did the shore forts of the day but few ships would risk a direct shootout with a fortress unless the fight was a diversion for a land attack. We can imagine that in this case it was.

The looting of the city comes off as tragic. It's disturbing to think that civilization is so vulnerable to the depredations of barbarians.

Disney wisely lightened up the situation with humor but the final slow and moody trip under the embers (above) of a burning wharf reveals Walt's true feelings about the situation...that the destruction of the city was a horrifying disaster.

All this talk about pirates makes me think of my favorite pirate (above), Captain Kidd.

Kidd started out with the intention of killing pirates and making a fortune off the bounties. With the aid of wealthy backers (which might have included the King), he built a new type of fighting ship (below) designed solely for the purpose of hunting pirates.

It (above) had an abbreviated keel for chasing pirates in the shallows, and oars for when the wind failed. It was long and narrow with extra guns and extra sails so it could outrun and outfight almost any ship that tried to escape. Not only that but Kidd personally chose the crew who consisted of the most honest and skilled sailors he could find. It seemed like a project that couldn't possibly fail.

But fail it did. Unfortunately for Kidd his proud crew mooned what they considered the inferior British Navy as they sailed out of port and the Navy retaliated by seizing them. Kidd was forced to replace the crew with thugs and criminals that he recruited in the New World.

It didn't take the thugs (above) long to realize that a ship designed for hunting pirates would make the ultimate pirate ship. They threatened to mutiny unless Kidd turned pirate himself. He reluctantly did, all the while attempting to smuggle notes to the British asking for help. When the English finally caught him they didn't buy any of his excuses and hanged and gibbeted him on a London dock.

If you're interested in reading fiction about pirates I can recommend two books. One (above) is by Rafael Sabatini, a true disciple of Alexander Dumas. The story in the book is fairly close to the one in the Errol Flynn movie, but it's worth reading even if you know everything that's going to happen.

The other book is the one by Tim Powers. My guess is that Powers was heavily influenced by the Pirate ride in Disneyland and his voodoo-laced book heavily influenced the Pirate movie, which came later. Accounts on the net differ. All I know for sure is that Disney bought the rights to the book and based the fourth Pirates movie on it.

A commenter recommends a novel called "The Black Corsair," but my library doesn't have an English translation.

A nice poster, eh? I wonder if you can still buy it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Most of these pictures are from The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland and Disneyworld. The yellowish portrait near the end is from a Ghostbusters movie.  

I'm partial to portraits of misers so I'll start with that.

The picture morphs into one showing a greedy relative who did away with the miser to get his money.

Here's a couple who might be decribed as mean and cheap. You'd expect that they'd be friends of the miser but that's not likely. True misers have deep disdain for those who are merely cheap.

Let us not forget the rides many interesting mini-portraits. That skull character on the left is beautifully designed.

Back to the large portraits; here's (above) Jack the Ripper.

And here's (above) Rasputin and his famous penetrating stare. Disney's good at making morphing pictures.

Here's (above) The Cat Lady....

....and here's the lady cat.

Above, Count Dracula.

Here's the morphing Medusa.

Who the heck are these kids (above)?

I know this guy.

 Here's a concept drawing that may never have been fully painted.

I notice that the Mansion contains no "mystery" paintings, i.e. pictures that contain a hidden picture or message. Can you see the hidden picture in this (above) one?

I'll end with this (above) over-the-fireplace portrait from the Ghostbusters movie. It  inspired me to consider leaving a creepy portrait of myself behind when it's my turn to kick the bucket.

It should be underlit and spooky. If I become the family patriarch my relatives would expect no less.

I'll include lots of esoteric symbols and a hint of a hidden fortune in the house. If I have greedy successors then they'll obsess over the supposed meaning of the thing.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Above, from Disneyworld's Haunted Mansion, the evil twins Wellington and Forsythia.

Who are these characters? It's not hard to imagine a whole film built around them.

From the same Haunted Mansion garden, it's (above) a bust of Uncle Jacob, a murderous miser.

Yikes! Is that Thurl Ravenscroft (above, foreground), the voice of Tony the Tiger?

Above, the Evil Coachman.

Evil coachman can be found in any era.

Here's some inverse statuary from Tokyo Disneyland.

Uh oh, I'm all sculptured out. How 'bout a couple of framed pictures from the mansion hall?

The park should sell posters of this ghost ship.

One final picture. I want to end this on an uplifting note.