Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Vault - "Circus! Circus!"

Around the time of my first produced short script - Slice - circa 2000-2001, the director of that film, Glen Eaves, showed me a short script he had written called Circus! Circus! It told the story of a midget in a freak show, Little Boy, who dreams of being a ringmaster and is in love with Beth, a bearded lady who yearns to sing opera. Pretty much your standard Australian short film really! He intended it to be an experimental piece and from memory the short was about 9 pages - around 9-10 minutes screen time.

The then Australian Film Commission (now Screen Australia) had a director driven initiative in place for short features ie movies 45-55 minutes in length. The theory was that the jump from a short film (10-20 minutes) to a full blown feature was too great and that directors should hone their narrative storytelling skills with this 'intermediary' beastie.

[Another script of mine, The Tangled Web, started life as a 50 minute script as well. It was soon discovered there was no market for them - far too long for film festivals, too hard to programme for television, too short for a theatrical release without being coupled with another short film].

So Glen asked me if I could take his 9 page script and turn it into a short feature. Which I did. There is a perfectly serviceable first draft that tells the story of a failing freak show under the rule of a ruthless ringmaster named Morbus, where a midget leads the freaks in revolt so that his beloved, a bearded lady, can save the circus from receivership (and the freaks from being sold off for medical experiments) by singing opera.

Sure, it has the inherent problems of all first drafts - the biggest being whose story is it? In Glen's short, Little Boy is the presumptive hero but it is Beth who undergoes the biggest transformation from shy, repressed, dreamer to performer and ultimate saviour [my money is on Beth].

Then there were the thematic concerns. Glen saw it as an allegory for the decline of capitalism with Little Boy literally representing the working class, Morbus the corrupt 'landowner' and the circus itself the rotting hulk of capitalism.

For me it was all about daring to chase your dreams, about an unlikely love free of physical prejudice, of finding beauty in the most unlikely places. Sound familiar? Yes, while Glen and my thematic concerns could actually sit side by side, the release of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! (which I loved ... once we got past the Sound of Music opening) pretty much ended what would have been an expensive, experimental 50 minute film no one could schedule. This was confirmed by the later premier of HBO's Carnivale (also a favourite) in 2003 which depicted a freak show with stunning visual detail.

But you know what - damned if it's still not one of the favourite pieces of writing of mine. I tried to get it off Glen a little while back (he owns the copyright), to do what with it I know not, but there's just something that still tickles my fancy about this most unlikely of love stories ... with a little socio-political revolution thrown in for good measure, of course!

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