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The Independent Critic

Jim Rose, Tim Cridland, The Enigma
Cory Wees
95 Mins.

 Movie Review: Circus of the Scars 
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If you're particularly squeamish, watching Circus of the Scars may not be the greatest idea. That was always true of the feature docs subject matter, the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and its remarkable collective of freaks and geeks and weirdos. 

As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow was a familiar presence that undeniably inspired other lesser known acts of the same variety like Indy's Blue Monkey Sideshow. Still, Jim Rose was an iconic figure in this world and Circus of the Scars captures that in an engaging, entertaining way. 

A 2-person, DIY pandemic project, Circus of the Scars picked up a half dozen along its festival journey including Best Doc Feature prizes at Chicago Underground and SF Indie Fest. For those interested in the subject matter, it's a blast. For the more squeamish sort? Consider yourself cautioned. 

The film is the feature debut of writer/director Cory Wees and co-writer Jan Gregor. Grittily set within the 90s resurgence of sideshows, Rose was a figurehead of sorts in and around Seattle. The whole sideshow thing was a natural complement to the burgeoning grunge scene and Rose was ready with such acts as Zamora the Torture King (Tim Cridland), Bebe the Circus Queen (Beatrice Aschard, also Rose's wife), The Enigma, The Tube, and, perhaps most memorably, the Amazing Mr. Lifto (my nipples hurt just thinking about him). 

While individually, all of these acts knew they could put on a great show they also knew they couldn't attract a crowd like Rose could attract a crowd. As Circus of the Scars captures, the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow was a hit that kept growing and growing. It eventually grew beyond Seattle, national tours followed including appearances at Lollapalooza and touring with Nine Inch Nails. 

Eventually, however, things started to fracture. No, not Mr. Lifto's nipples. 

Circus of the Scars features a wealth of archival footage and interviews with most of the key players. Interviews aren't particularly revealing or compelling, however, other than truly reinforcing what drew them all to the sideshow and what eventually led them to leaving it all behind.  Everyone here gets their moment to shine, a nice little spotlight on a piece of American history that not everyone knows. For those of us who do remember, Circus of the Scars is a nostalgic and entertaining journey. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic