The Hottest Show in Town (1974)

Seurat meets Welles

There are a few things everyone should do, and one of them is to visit the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

But first, I see I am the initial commenter on this little film. So let me describe it because you are unlikely to find it. It is ostensibly a porn film, somewhere between hard and soft. It isn’t quite hard core because the sexual participants don’t arrange themselves especially so we can see, and the camera doesn’t particularly snoop around. People (including dwarfs) have sex and we happen upon them. Animals do as well. But the chance of stumbling on them is conflated with our deliberately being in an audience.

The story involves a modern, small circus that is in financial trouble. One day the owner discovers his employees gathered around two of the show dogs copulating and (with much chin stroking) imagines how successful his circus might be if they incorporated sex.

What’s interesting about this is how what follows is Godardian: you never know whether you are seeing the actual circus doing sexy things or his imagining what might be. And it gets more complicated. There are lots of sexy scenes, but many of them involve fantasies that might be the result of further nesting or originating other imagined things.

Every such scene has at least one parallel one (often similar but less fantastic) that we shuffle between quickly. Many scenes involve real performers doing their act, but nude. There’s lots of clowning and the whole thing is just too natural and wholesome to be associated with “normal” porn. Think of it like Gary Graver’s “Private Teacher,” which was informed by Welles himself.

Back to the d’Orsay.

First you need to see Orson Welles’ Kafka film that was set in that building after it was a railway station and before it was repurposed into a museum. Walking around this interesting structure you can see each space he used in the film, clearly recognisable. One such space was where the artist in his story worked and indeed in that very space we now have the world’s finest collection of impressionist paintings.

Foremost among them, I think, is one by Georges Seurat. It is a painting of a circus, rather famous though unfinished. Seurat is usually known for his technique of millions of tiny coloured dots, but he was quite a theorist of observation as well and all is rolled into this painting. You can find it (“The Circus”) on the web.

What’s in that painting is precisely what is in Welles’ movie. The juxtaposition of remembered and actual space, of watching and living, of being and observing is extraordinary. You should visit it. But first see this movie if you can, because the thing quotes this painting. It quotes it quite literally in one scene (as does a similar scene in the similarly situated “Moulin Rouge”). But it also quotes the idea of sensual engagement and sexual engagement made real by imagining, watching and doing together.

Posted in 2005

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *