Planned as part of the Institute for the Humanities exhibit of a collaboration between Calder and French poet Jacques Prévert, the film portrays a 1966 performance, for a Parisian audience, of the Cirque Calder, an ensemble of wire, metal, and cloth figures and circus props created nearly four decades earlier. Manipulated by Calder's hand or by simple, ingenious gears, cranks, catapults, and strings, two wire and metal horse-carriages race, a lion tamer puts his head in a lion's mouth, and trapeze artists swing, leap, and catch their partners' wrists.
The beaming, bearlike Calder seems so charmed by his circus figures that he doesn't realize the molasses-slow performance of clever yet tiny feats grows tedious. Nor does he seem to hear a subtle note of ridicule that underlies some of the audience's laughter.
This fascinating film recalls Thomas Wolfe's blistering, barely fictionalized portrayal, in You Can't Go Home Again, of a 1929 Cirque Calder performance in a New York socialite's apartment, when the novelty of the Cirque was a quaint, fashionable diversion for the well heeled. "It became painful," reads one passage. "People craned their necks and looked embarrassed. But Mr. Logan [Calder] was not embarrassed. He giggled happily with each new failure and tried again. It went on and on."