Saturday, September 05, 2015

Portland Day 3 (part 2)

The cinema lights go down and the movie begins...


On August 20, 1994 the circus came to Honolulu, Hawaii... which is unusual. Few circuses come to Hawaii because it involves a long ocean voyage with lions and tigers and elephants. So this was a big deal. But on that day, one of the elephants Tyke killed it’s trainer and crushed his assistant (who survived) and went on a rampage, knocking over families in the audience as it escaped the arena and then stampeded down the streets on Honolulu causing havok... until it was surrounded by the police and shot 37 times until it was dead.

This was a really well made documentary that not only used archival news footage of the incident, they went back and found *home movies* of people who were sitting in the audience and even uncovered unused news footage of Tyke arriving on the boat from a story on the circus coming to town. They interviewed survivors, the news field reporter covering the story, some families in the audience that day, and many others who were there when it happened (including the wildlife guy tasked with removing the body of the dead elephant using a crane and flatbed truck). But the documentary also looks back at Tyke’s life *before* the incident, and the two times before where Tyke had escaped during the performance and run away from the circus into some city’s streets. News footage of that (no one was injured so it was used as a somewhat humorous story). And interviewed Tyke’s trainer, who stopped using the elephant because it no longer wanted to perform (the trainer was a very sympathetic guy, he used what would be called “gentle training” with Tyke while previous trainers had used bullhooks). One of the fascinating things I learned is that circus animals are usually *leased* from a wild animal company by the circus... and “warehoused” between seasons.

The doc also did a great job of showing both sides: The owner of Walker Bros Circus was interviewed about the use of animals in circuses, and had some interesting reasons why these animals *should* be part of a circus. Also a “dirty tricks” guy for the circuses who disrupted animal rights demonstrations was interviewed at length, including his anti-PETA footage and some hearing footage showing him. These two guys gave the opposing viewpoint, but when you hear about how unhappy the elephant was and see it shot 37 times on the street, it’s hard not to think that maybe elephants and other animals shouldn’t be forced to do tricks for our amusement... that maybe they would rather be just having an everyday elephant life.

The trainer of Tyke who was interviewed talked about how elephants really don’t forget, they have feelings and emotions... and can hold a grudge. Trainers who use pain to train animals often find themselves with angry elephants waiting for a good time to inflict a little payback.

The news footage of Tyke being shot is horrific. And the people on the street are crying like crazy because this was a majestic animal. It was pushed to the brink and eventually rebelled... A senseless death.


Where TYKE was very professionally made, this film often looked like it was shot on a cheap consumer camcorder... but the story and “characters” were still compelling.

Three high school marching bands from the ghettos of New Orleans prep to march in the Mardi Gras Parade. When I say these kids are “at risk”, I mean that some get shot and die by gang and drug violence in the course of this film. These three different music teachers each take it upon themselves to take these kids who would end up gangbangers and drug dealers and instead get them focused on music. Their world is still dangerous, but they don’t become part of that danger. The film goes into their homes: and some of the camcorder looking stuff seemed to be kids taking a camera home to document their home life. Each of the three music teachers feels responsible for their kids, and in the words of one: he doesn’t want to be their father, he wants to be their uncle... the guy you can go to when you are in trouble who isn’t going to punish you, he’s going to help you.

One of my favorite bits from the film is when this cute little 10 year old kid plays the trumpet for one of the music teachers and the kid is *amazing*. The teacher says that kid plays better than his high school kids, so when he gets into the program he’ll be a star... and probably end up with a music career. If he lives that long.

Even the high school kids end up “cute” because we are taken into their lives and see how awkward many of them are when they aren’t wearing their tough street exterior. These kids don’t see any future for themselves, and these three music teachers give them something to do, some direction, some discipline and responsibility.

The title sequence consisted of these great illustrations of the marching bands and the crime on the streets, and we are introduced to the young artist who tried out for band but his talents lay elsewhere... so he became the unofficial chronicler of the three bands. They introduce each band with one of his illustrations... and then we never see the kid or his illustrations again, and I think that was a mistake. One of my problems watching the film is I often got confused by which band we were watching (though the teachers were easy to identify, the classes contained a bunch of students and it was often difficult to figure out who was who), I think using an illustration of a musician in the band’s signature color in the corner of the screen would have helped.

Also, the story was unfocused. I thought the big scene where they march in the parade was the end, but the film continues for a while after that with some stuck on subplots. Yes, those subplots were powerful story elements (one having to do with a student who gets killed) I think they could have reordered the scenes and made the story flow better. Yes, the student’s murder came *the following year* of school, but it would have been better to play a little with the time line so that we could have a more focused a coherent story. Still, powerfully emotional stuff.

- Bill

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