Carny (1980) Jul 20, 2020 11:16:45 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jul 20, 2020 11:16:45 GMT -5
Directed by: Robert Kaylor
Directed by: Robert Kaylor
Gary Busey and a young Jodie Foster in Carny.
Robert Kaylor's Carny is what I dub a "playground film" as the real star of the show is the vast, unfamiliar setting in which we're plunged for much of the picture. Kaylor's camera weaves us through worn fields on the backroads of America, inserting us amidst the landscape of a traveling circus where hustling carnies and societal rejects work to make a (dis)honest living. The film's thin plot allows it the liberty to weave in and out of factions of this circus, while positing a tricky romantic triangle at the center.
The traveling circus in question is the Great American Carnival, a small, ostensibly marginally funded troupe of misfits that travel across small-town America boasting carnival games and rides. A veteran of this troupe is Frankie (Gary Busey), better known as "Bozo," a clown who perches himself above a small reservoir in a dunk-tank and hurls insults at customers as they lob baseballs in hopes of submerging the instigator. Aiding Frankie is Patch (Robbie Robertson), who hustles customers in the heat of their rage as they keep overthrowing balls and missing the target. One assuming day has Frankie meeting Donna (Jodie Foster in one of her earliest roles), a local 18-year-old who is completely over her bumpkin town and is looking for a change of scenery. What begins as a one-night stand with the quirky but suave clown leads to Donna finding an unconventional home on the road with the circus.
Frankie and another carnival lifer (Meg Foster) teach Donna the art of hustling, be it in menial carnival games or on stage with a poll and lingerie. She takes an immediate liking to the liberation of being her own boss and spending time with her new, far older boyfriend. She also meets such staples as the Fire-Eating Dwarf and a married couple who are impressive contortionists. Things go swimmingly until the realization that the carnival is indebted to the mob in order to remain afloat dawns on the rest of the crew, leaving them on shakier ground than they initially believed.
Carny may suffer from a handful of plot-strands and a runtime not conducive to adequately humanizing characters outside of the central three, but it's elevated by acting and ambiance. To begin with, I'm convinced few other performers could've given Frankie the disturbing duality of an everyday laymen and a psychotic, instigating clown. Busey nails his role by pulling off a balancing act of gritty but charismatic during the day and caged and unhinged at night while a green Jodie Foster accentuates the disillusioned qualities of Donna that make her a tragic hero.
Some of the film's most immersive moments come after nightfall, when the carnival is most bustling with activity. The setting is essentially an unmaintained field, brightly lit thanks to overhead lighting, with an abundance of shoddy tents and gravel pits serving as decorations on the forgotten land. It loans itself to that of a gritty, slice-of-life film that gets us to spend an extensive period of time in a culture to which many of us have likely given little thought. It's rich in atmosphere and tension, sometimes resembling a horror film, and sometimes, albeit rarely, a film can get by on that and superb acting despite details like cohesion being left desired.
Starring: Gary Busey, Jodie Foster, Robbie Robertson, Meg Foster, Kenneth McMillan, and Elisha Cook, Jr. Directed by: Robert Kaylor.