Come one, come all

Aleksandrov and Simkov’s 1936 work of “Circus” combines the elements of farce, comedy, vaudeville, and melodrama in order to produce a ubiquitously enjoyable, light-hearted tale of heroism in the face of adversity laced with prominent themes of existing world politics and the Soviet socialist cause. The simple plot revolves mainly around the exploits of a fictitious American circus performer, Marion Dixon, and her engagements in love and peril as she tries to seek sanctuary in the Soviet Union in an attempt to escape the bigoted derision she faces in America at the cause of her being the mother to a black child. The film opens with her running away with the diabolical Franz von Kneishitz, a German theater agent with a visage and ideology blatantly reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s, and his assistant, a farcical cane-wielding Charlie Chaplin-esque performer.

Throughout the film, we can clearly see Marion’s avid willingness to transform into a joyful member of the Soviet Union with the utilization of the cannon performance as a metaphor. She begins the performance by singing about how she would desperately like “to get to the sky, but the stars are just too high.”1 Once she is fired from the canon, she lands on the moon contraption and sings of “knowing no fear, knowing no plight”, essentially paralleling the envisioned view of the socialist utopia, in which every individual would receive equal happiness. Marion continuously dreams of a better life in an unprejudiced Russia, but is constantly thwarted by Kneishitz. He himself is threatened by the Russian circus performers who wish to build an even better cannon, reflecting the intrinsic Soviet desire to modernize, industrialize, and become a dominant world power.

Marion also proceeds to fall in love with a fellow performer, Martynov, who retains the image of the flawless, handsome, and swashbuckling Soviet man. The two play the piano and sing a song glorifying the country: “Our border stretching far and wide / Walk our man, a master of his country / In his heart, and overwhelming pride / Each day is better than the previous one”.2 Martynov is the antithesis to Kneishitz, who struggles to control Marion while the former strives to free her, as the two face off in a cannon-building competition. This conflict may also be seen as a Soviet disapproval of Hitler’s ideals of Nazi racism and the perfect “Aryan” race. Towards the end of the film, Kneishitz proclaims Marion as a criminal when he reveals her black son to the crowd, whom he expects to denounce her. On the contrary, they gleefully accept her and the child, passing him around while singing a collective lullaby between the hands of many different ethnicities, as a reflection of the socialist national policy of korenizatsiya. In a dazzling scene of synchronized choreography, Marion is surrounded by light, and looks up to Martynov, who stands with blazing torches in his hands upon an immaculate stairway, a scene resembling religious Christ-like imagery of ascension to heaven and paradise. The film concludes with a prideful, militaristic march of the circus performers in uniform that eventually evolves into a procession donning flags of Lenin, Marx, and Stalin, emphasizing the central political message of promoting revolutionary socialist and egalitarian ideals.

  1. Circus, Grigori Aleksandrov and Isidor Simkov, 1936. []
  2. Ibid. []

One thought on “Come one, come all

  1. You mentioned so many lyrics and songs from this film. I agree that the use of music is very purposeful in this film. Though it is a musical and so will present themes through song I was very impacted by the lyrics and melody. They portrayed ideas without being too harsh causing the audience to be more perceptible to the propaganda. The music also helps the audience know how they should feel at each point in the film. very Interesting!

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