The First Circus, 1921

Actually 2 films mistakenly catalogued together, The First Circus is the work of German American puppeteer and illustrator Tony Sarg, who is perhaps most famous for his 1937 Nantucket Sea-Serpent Hoax.

The first of these two films (untitled) offers a humerus critic of Prohibition Era America as Darwin discovers the “first Prohibition Agent,” a monkey who finds a bottle of booze with a friend and  despairs  when  a larger monkey steals it from them.

The second film, The First Circus is in my opinion, more interesting. Imagining the world’s first circus in prehistoric Scotland, Sarg’s playful animation pictures two performers on the back of what must be an ancestor of the Lock Ness Monster. With Stonehenge in the background, the pair of performers launch off their creature’s tail with grace and agility.

But, like any circus, especially PT Barnum’s, which the film references at the outset, this first circus involves a great deal of animal exploitation. Perhaps without meaning to, it illuminates man’s propensity to extract the intrinsic value from animals without offering much if anything in return.

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