Vaudeville was the nest that birthed cinema, as Edison and the Lumiere brothers moved from kinetoscopes to audience projections in vaudeville houses. In return, film and television would dethrone staged variety entertainment, turning Orpheum theatres into RKO cinemas, and push it from the dominant form of mass entertainment in the early 20th century into kitsch eccentricity. In this context, The Show of Shows acts as cinema’s mea culpa. The film is a discreetly structured montage of late 19th- to mid-20th century archived footage of vaudeville, fairground and circus performances, scored with original music from Sigur Ros and composer Hilmar Orn Hilmarrson. Introduced first to performers backstage during construction, preparation and rehearsal, we then join the audiences funnelling into the tents to watch an assembled variety show medley, arranged into innominate thematic sections. Tumbling, lion-taming, blind-boxing, burlesque striptease and other antiquated arts are brought back from the dead via the mass medium that helped kill them.
Read the whole review here at The Flaneur
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