November 18, 1901 [Trapeze Disrobing Act]

At first glance, more harmless impropriety, as the daring young girl on the not-flying trapeze maneuvers herself out of a good deal of her clothes. Frivolous—and, yes, intriguing, as one wonders how she will manage without falling—and, of course, how much she will manage to discard.

Another element, though, is added: two observers in the frame, men sitting in a box seat, themselves high above the audience, almost at the girl's feet—and of course the recipient of all her attentions (and most of her garments). And while these eyeball-rolling gents act as comic relief, they also serve as surrogates upon whom we can heap our finer sensibilities. They are the audience, all male, improper but risible, making the exhibition legitimate and "fun."

But I must admit they distracted me from exactly those improprieties in which I wanted to indulge. I watched it again, drawing my eye away from them and toward the girl, allowing her to be that isolated figure—and I believe I want to define her not merely as a titillation but as something outside the cinema, the circus itself, wild expertise high up there, a theater divorced from narrative but intimately tied to the garish fantasy of the Big Top. If only those lascivious men had been grease-painted clowns; then the moment would have reached its proper pitch, manic, grotesque, even seductive. Perhaps cinema is the new circus, then, capable of convolutions B.T. Barnum may have anticipated, but could never duplicate.


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