Storyville: The Golden Age of Circus

Storyville: The Golden Age of Circus

Date: 20/01/2016 13:25

Combining rare archive footage and home movies from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Storyville: The Golden Age of Circus promises to show the audience sights, ‘that will amaze, some that will thrill’. This BBC4 documentary doesn’t disappoint. Director Benedikt Erlingsson has painstakingly researched, compiled and edited together footage from a wide variety of sources, not least the treasure trove of material held by the National Fairground Archive.

Stitching together these images of vaudeville, circus and carnival life, the end result is a vibrant filmic patchwork and a faithful testament to the skill and artistry of the performers - be it sword swallowers or stuntbike riders. The huge appeal of these acts is indicated by shots of surging crowds and giddy children. The sure editing and a mesmerising new score by members of Icelandic band, Sigur Rós, lends the already surreal imagery a heightened, almost hypnotic feel.

Amongst the dazzle of the dancing girls and boys and the death-defying excitements of the escapologists and human cannonball acts, there are images that a contemporary audience may find jarring, not least those scenes of animal, or freak show performers. Nonetheless, The Golden Age of Circus remains an enthralling account of much-changed, if not altogether vanished worlds. Welcome to The Show of Shows.

Storyville: The Golden Age of Circus is available on BBC iPlayer until 16 February 2016

Image courtesy of the National Fairground Archive. Copyright University of Sheffield.