For decades, going to the circus was a typical option for a family outing, but times and attitudes have changed. That’s clearly demonstrated in this eye-popping compilation of archive footage of travelling circuses and old-school spectacle, including escapologists, human cannonballs, high-wire acts and rodeos.
Icelandic director Benedikt Erlingsson was given access to Sheffield University’s National Fairground Archive, and has come up with a dazzling assemblage. While his film celebrates extraordinary feats of physical daring and captures the lives of socially marginalised show people, it also explores how the treatment of animals and children has thankfully moved on. There’s no commentary telling us what to think, only a cracking ambient rock score from two members of Sigur Rós. So we can make up our own minds as we watch bicycling bears, dancing elephants, boxing chimps and even a toddler participating in a knife act! A startling, horrifying and undeniably valuable time-capsule.