The freaks come out at night!
Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages. Come one, come all for here…they…are: the first and the best, the pioneers of a new kind of endurance entertainment that relies on presentations from the past reconfigured for the modern sensibility. Those with sensitive stomachs or squeamish dispositions should look away now. For arriving on a DVD player near you is the full on freak show frenzy of The Jim Rose Circus Show. Featuring acts of unusual accomplishment and rare human oddity, this 90-minute cavalcade of calamities consists of:
Jim Rose—the Master of Ceremonies. Specializes in pain and escape stunts like having darts thrown at his back, swallowing and regurgitating razor blades, and smashing his face into broken bottles.
Matt "the Tube" Crowley—enjoys passing objects through his nose, like a condom or a seven foot length of stomach pump hose. Also performs some pain exercises like taping lit firecrackers to his chest and smashing his fingers with unopened soup cans.
Mr. Lifto—thanks to an elaborate set of piercings in some of the most unusual places available on the human body, Mr. Lifto…lifts things. Irons. Concrete blocks. Chains. He even places a hangar through a hole in his tongue and proceeds to hang his wardrobe on it.
The Torture King—famous for his "human pincushion" routine, which consists of having dozens of tiny needles with miniature light bulbs attached to them stuck in his body. He also loves to skewer his arms, throat and cheeks with long nasty needles.
The Enigma—enjoys onstage meals of crickets, maggots, and worms. He also swallows swords. Covered from head to toe in an elaborate body tattoo that resembles thousands of puzzle pieces, this mysterious man is also responsible for the psychotic circus music that plays throughout the show.
Bebe the Circus Queen—like the Carol Merrill of the carnival, she gives the acts a helping hand when need be.
Here it is fans and curiosity seekers: It's the original version of the Jim Rose Sideshow Circus Act, the one that wowed them at Lollapalooza, turned this Seattle based festival of freaks into an international household name (kind of), and even inspired Homer's stint as a cannonball target on The Simpsons. This DVD presentation represents a 1993 sold-out show in Washington (as well as the shorter, previous VHS incarnation of the performance) that signaled the freak show renaissance in the performing arts, which has now culminated in such television shows as Fear Factor, and most famously, Jackass. In a way, you can see how Jim Rose is the god-geek-father to such unafraid physical fools as Steve-O and Johnny Knoxville. It's interesting to look back at this humble beginning to see how a then cottage industry has now expanded into a familiar multimedia sensation. Rose's current show travels all over the world, has spawned dozens of imitators, and was even featured recently in a reality TV show for the Travel Channel entitled The Jim Rose Twisted Tour. Kind of The Real World mixed with the real weird, The Twisted Tour follows the performance artist and his troupe as they traverse America, providing behind the scenes looks at the unusual human specimens and the trials and tribulations they experience being different in a completely conformist society. Rose has always been a cult hero champion of the old school notions of the unusual and unique.
However, it's hard to say if The Jim Rose Circus Show DVD is an entertaining experience to sit through or just a double dare you survival test. Some of the material here is shockingly cruel, and there are sequences where the limits of taste and tolerance are pushed to the very ends. Matt "The Tube" Crowley provides probably the most wince inducing moment in the entire show, when he uses a stomach pump to force a forty ounce beer doctored with ketchup, chocolate, and Pepto Bismol into his belly, only to have Rose extract it moments later. Bile and all…through a tube in his nose…so that "samples" can then be served to the audience. The Torture King is also unnerving in his calm, emotional personal piercing parade. He just seems to get too much quiet joy out of sticking these incredibly long and nasty looking needles through his skin. And while it's true that the Enigma with his puzzle piece body art is intriguing, and Mr. Lifto enchants with the concept of pushing human fortitude, the show and the video/digital presentation here belongs to the impresario himself, Jim Rose. Looking like Gary Oldman circa Sid and Nancy and sporting an impish goatee, Rose has a wide-eyed crazed party animal persona about him, sort of like a groovy Goth game show host. Part feral wild child, part suave street performer, he is amazingly articulate and mesmerizing in his carnival barker spiel (his use of the word "beautiful," spoken in a long, drawn out breath is very effective) and draws you into his world of physical perversions with eloquence and humor. He occasionally breaks the spell by slipping into crass vulgarities and unfortunately, his reliance on the F-word removes the magic from the moments in the show where he has been most effective. Still he's immensely entertaining and is part of the reason why his show is so successful. The Jim Rose Circus Show is definitely a reflection of its namesake.
For the DVD release of this title, Moonshine Films has gone back and located the original full stage show presentation and has provided that hour and a half performance as the main entertainment element. Everything is included here, from ingratiating introductions to chaotic curtain call. Offered in a full screen direct from video transfer, the usual troubling tape elements are present. There is some flaring during the more brightly lit moments and an occasional halo or two. Overall, the image is very good. As is the original thirty-five minute highlight show that made up the original VHS release. Amusingly, Rose and the gang participate in some staged bumper material that allows us to see the performers in a more professionally produced and staged arena. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, famous for their work in music videos, use a semi-distracting technique of shooting the show from actual stage level, so that most of the material we see is oddly framed and occasionally viewed in hard to decipher extreme close up. But as a souvenir of the theater experience, it is very good. Bonus material is abundant, starting with a silent movie rehearsal film set to the same warped calliope carnival sounds as in the show. It's interesting to see how many of the elements that appear impromptu are actually staged. There is also an interesting homemade commercial and a few minutes of bloopers to show that even professional freaks fudge things up every once in a while.
As a memento of how Jim Rose and his merry band of bizarreness got started, this DVD is an excellent introduction. But you may find yourself cringing with disgust more than clapping with delight.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
• The Original 35 Minute Version of the Show
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