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Cherry Pop

'American Experience: The Circus'
(2-Disc DVD / PG / 2018 / PBS)

Overview: 'The Circus' explores the colorful history of this popular, influential and distinctly American form of entertainment, from the first one-ring show at the end of the 18th century to 1956, when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey big top was pulled down for the last time.

DVD Verdict: This totally enthralling four-hour mini-series tells the story of one of the most popular and influential forms of entertainment in American history.

Drawing upon a vast and rich visual archive, 'The Circus' follows the rise and fall of the gigantic, traveling tented railroad circus, recounting the era when Circus Day could shut down a town, and circus stars were among the most famous people in the country.

For many Americans, the circus embodied the improbable and the impossible, the exotic and the spectacular. Through the intertwined stories of several of the most innovative and influential impresarios of the late nineteenth century, this series reveals the circus was a uniquely American entertainment created by a rapidly expanding and industrializing nation; that it embraced and was made possible by Western imperialism; that its history was shaped by a tension between its unconventional entertainments and prevailing standards of respectability; and that its promise for ordinary people was the possibility for personal reinvention.

Along with its visual archive it also features a host of performers, historians and aficionados. We learn that the circus, in general, is of comparatively recent origin, yet certain elements can be traced back to ancient Rome.

The great Roman amphitheatres—called circuses after the Latin word for “circle”—were most often devoted to gladiatorial combats, chariot races, the slaughter of animals, mock battles, and other blood sports.

Also, the title "Circus" is an entertainment or spectacle usually consisting of trained animal acts and exhibitions of human skill and daring.

The word has the same root as circle and circumference, recalling the distinctive environment in which such entertainment is presented—the ring, a circular performance area usually bounded by a short fence (or “curb”).

The ring may be enclosed in an arena, in a building designed for circus performances, or in a tent, and it is generally surrounded by tiers of seats for spectators.

Indeed, 'The Circus' brings to life an era when Circus Day would shut down a town, its stars were among the most famous people in the country, and multitudes of Americans gathered to see the improbable and the impossible, the exotic and the spectacular. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.

www.PBS.org





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