Clowns and Punks in Phllip Glau's "Circus Redickuless"
by Scott Petersen
When most of us think of the circus, we imagine such things as colorful
big top tents, elephants, clowns with painted faces, and high-flying
acrobats. But Phillip Glau's documentary "Circus Redickuless," showing
today at the 1998 Independent Feature Film Market in New York City
shows a darker side to the circus. Armed with a taste for pulling pranks
and a wicked sense of perception, Glau structures the movie linearly around a
month-long, no rent, so-called punk rock circus that fails at every
turn. Since a project's disintegration sometimes can be more interesting
than a genuinely good performance, the circus's monumental problems work
to Glau's benefit.
The circus itself is the brainchild of an engaging con artist named
Chicken John, who toured with the notorious and disgusting punk rock
icon, the late GG Allin. Chicken John describes the tour as "circus of
the scars" and a "show of schmoes." Producer/director/editor Glau calls
it "a bad idea poorly executed."
Chicken John invited the Other (a punk band) and a bunch of friends to
join the circus. Then they hit the road. Sort of. The tour would have
started in Los Angeles, but the club wouldn't let the circus enter with
their dog, Dammit, due to the health code. Chicken refused to play
without the dog so he canceled the show. Glau uses the particular
disasters as symbols for the circus's overall problems: the broken down
vehicle, a gig canceled because the club went out of business, and an
impending thunderstorm all suggest hard times to come for Chicken and
One show took place after hours at a trash recycling center, where the
circus sold beer to the underage crowd. "I sort of had this romantic
ideal of what it would be like to tour with the circus. I didn't know
how bad it was going to be. I could never imagine it being that bad."
One fascinating aspect of this movie is the tension between the two
strong personalities, Chicken John and Bomber, the leader of the Other.
"[They] are the two hustlers on the tour and everybody else is a
passive-aggressive type," Glau explains. The two tried to scam Glau out
of his own money, but soon moved to "easier" targets. Even Chicken
acknowledged his reputation: "I consider the hustle to be more of a
legitimized art form than just mild thievery." It appeared that the
other performers enjoyed being in the presence of personalities like
Chicken John because of his dynamism. "They get to be around somebody
who's this bright shining star personality." says Glau. "The circus
might suck, the circus might not be fun, the circus might be whatever,
but give Chicken this: he made the circus happen."
Glau initially met Chicken John via the Cacophony Society, "a loose
organization of artists, poets, freaks, filmmakers and musicians" who
still coordinate anarchistic events. One event called for 150 members
to get drunk, dress up in cheap Santa outfits and go to office parties
the week before Christmas and "drink their booze, flirt with their
girlfriends, and take their gifts." They also have been known to chase
single, innocent Santas through malls during the holiday season,
screaming "Death to Santa" and performing mock lynchings. When Glau
dressed as a Santa, he was severely beaten by a bunch of punks at a Los
Angeles show by the Vandals. Apparently, punk rock kids don't care much
for Santa. "The Santa suit acts as a big blood sponge," adds Glau.
The current environment for financing documentaries elicits a strong
response from Glau. In what is most-likely an unpopular view, he calls
the cuts in arts funding "the best thing that's [happened] to
documentaries. A lot of documentaries that are funded that way are
issue-oriented. The sooner we stop funding those [docs], the sooner the
pipelines will clean up from that crap. Most documentaries I see on
television are horrible. They're not directed, they're produced." Glau
spent his own money on "Circus."
Part of his problem with the issue-oriented docs that generally end up
on PBS is the supposed objectivity of these projects. "That's even more
of a sin than simply having a point of view. Documentaries are not
objective; they're a fabrication made out of real events." At the end
of the film, Glau supports his theoretical base with a wonderful
dramatic and thematic twist. Chicken John addresses Glau (who shot the
movie as well) and "accuses" him of being the actual ringleader behind
the whole event. "You're the hustler, I'm the rube," Chicken says.
"They do become my puppets," says Glau. "They are painted in the movie
in sharper colors than they are in reality. Chicken John is not as
horrible in real life as he comes off in the film. I tried to build
different characters to make it interesting. I'm telling you a story
from my point of view."
Glau premiered the doc at SXSW and has also played at New York
Underground (where it won Best Doc), Chicago Underground, Atlanta,
Nashville (honorable mention), and Charlotte film festivals. Ironically,
after the second screening at SXSW, more people had seen the movie of
the circus than had seen the circus live.
Glau is searching for a producer's rep who will try to wrangle
theatrical distribution. When asked about his plans for the
IFFM, Glau is cautious. Because of the sheer number of projects
screening, he's not expecting much so he won't be disappointed. "It's
never going to play in 2000 theaters across the country, but I think
there's a commercial possibility with the film as a doc." Glau
continues, "It's youth-oriented enough, and, frankly, it's funny enough.
[The IFFM] will do me good in terms of meeting people and schmoozing and
setting up the next project." As for the present, Glau is doing special
effects for the television series "Mr. Potato Head." "It pays the bills."
He says soberly.
"Circus Redickuless" plays at 9 am today, Sept. 22 in the Angelika 3. It
will also screen at the IDA Doctober Fest, October 2-8, 1998, State
Theatre, Pasadena, CA For more information about Circus Redickuless,
[Scott Petersen is a Chicago-based documentary filmmaker. His website
is at: www.tezcat.com/outoftheloop.]