In Do You Want the Elephant Music, subjects are
looking, always looking. Never are we shown what it is they
are looking at. The film seems to be about an elsewhere.
Not the spectacle that is the circus. Expectations of the
circus and its attendant spectacles are not met.
Even the subjects of the film rarely occupy center stage.
What is it that lies always outside or beyond the ring?
We are being asked to look elsewhere.
The ring is the character that allows so many people to
manifest themselves. The ring is a kind of mirror to our
desires, to ourselves. The film is not about the ring and
its endless delivery of spectacle, but about us, the people
A circus performer says, "Everybody looks for me,"
defying our expectations of circus spectacle. We are supposed
to look at him, at his tricks; that's the deal we struck
between spectator and spectacle. We're not supposed to look
for the performer. He's supposed to be there. We are thrust
into a kind of absence, a sense that the spectacle, the
thing to look at, is always somewhere else. The bright lights
and the music and the glitter are there to soften this truth,
to hide it.
When we do get spectacle, we are not allowed to passively
enjoy for we are told that something even more dramatic
is happening off-screen. As the strong man thrusts the knives
through his cheeks, he tells us that the thing that has
his attention is his mother, crying. He sees her seeing
him like this. She becomes the spectacle, but she's not
even there for us to see.
The strong man tells us that he must "make me hard,
hard up before I put the knives in." A kindly man,
a friendly man, is how he describes himself, "They
think I'm a monster." In the ring, the audience sees
what it wants to see, a monster. The kindly man that takes
knives in his cheeks is elsewhere.
The dwarf says, "When they see me, I'm walking down
the street. They make jokes." He tells us he used to
get hurt before but not anymore. The people on the street
aren't looking at him--not the real him, the clown. He is
Bobo. In the ring he has made his size a spectacle, in this
ring he's in charge of our laughs. "I'd rather be like
I am than other people," he will never quite be like
others. Only in the ring can he rise above us all.
The lion tamer diverts our attention away from the spectacle.
We are told of an immanent threat in the handling of these
beasts. But this sense of danger is never in evidence in
the ring. The danger seems to be taking place outside the
ring, in the lion tamer's own home. We see a wife that is
restless, fearful and unhappy with her husband's work. Will
she leave him? The real threat is elsewhere.
Even the audience has a role. "Don't blame them for
people who haven't come." Audience is as much about
the ones who haven't shown up as the ones who have. The
fewer people in the audience, the more performers must fill
the ring with the illusion of presence, of spectacle.
They don't know who I am behind the makeup, asserts another
clown. Nor is the audience ever likely to. We fill in the
absence with our own desires, with our own visions, imaginations.
The ring, the makeup, and the looking-glass in which the
performers daily apply their faces--they are all just surfaces
for the "audience to manifest themselves."
Our gaze is directed away from the ring to its periphery,
to the moments in-between shows, to the setting up and pulling
down of the main event. The spectacle swells in proportion,
suggested but never shown.
What's at stake? Nothing less that humanity, the revealing
to us and reminding us of the most fundamental fear we all
share--that of being discovered for who we are, always already
less than the swelled spectacle of who we should be.
Life is remembered as a series of spectacles, but life
is lived in moments in-between. So much easier to perform
life in the bright lights of spectacle than live it in the
moments when no one's watching. It's in those moments that
we show our real face to the world.