The show combines three through-lines to make this latest event poignant, funny and exhilarating. First, the creators chronicle the evolution of film in a series of acts: from the theater of cavemen, early photography, epic-scale studio productions, and a film noir action sequence.
The second story, a tale of love between a lonely youthful composer and a young blonde hopeful, is simple but tender. Their lives intersect as the film medium grows up. Finally, in an act of heroism, our young boy saves our damsel's life, capturing her heart.
In the last story arc, five clowns show the satirical side of the business: the bungling, the egos, and the award-grasping hunger for fame. The characters include a Gloria Swansonesque diva, a man-crazy costume designer, a desperate writer, a mush-mouthed producer, and an emcee who hides behind his hat.
As always, the Cirque audience spends most of the time rubbing their eyes, not believing what they're seeing to be true. Stacks of acrobats balance their partners (sometimes two or three) while walking on their hands; aerialists balance upside down on trapezes with just five toes to hold them up; and contortionists bend their body as if their bones were made of gelatin. Each time you see two men on straps flying through the auditorium, you practically shout out loud, "How did they do that?"
Director Philippe Decouflé integrates the performances with the visual references to film in magical ways. Flag spinners and Cyr Wheels are backlit and projected to represent the shadow performances of the cavemen. Dancers are superimposed on the screen in stop motion, each action captured like individual frames of a movie spool. Trampolines skillfully allow artists to turn stage combat into an aerial feat.
Holding everything together, Elfman's grandiose score evokes Italian cinema, film noir, and even some of his own best works, such as Edward Scissorhands and Pee-wee's Big Adventure.
Costume designer Philippe Guillotel playfully dresses the artists in iconic characterizations, from gladiators to gangsters, some in primary colors reminiscent of Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. In one of the show's most innovative looks, a young woman walks around with a skirt spinning to show an early nickelodeon of two men boxing. Hooray for Hollywood, indeed!