Its secret lies in the collaboration of people who know the subject with a juggler/film producer who knows his business. The producer, Stewart Lippe from Tampa, Fla., makes his living from film production and juggling entertainment under the stage name, "Lipi." Lippe used the sophisticated editing techniques at his disposal to combine old footage of May in action, new recordings of May's musical scores and interviews with May and Dick Franco, his student.
The results give us a warm, authentic and definitive view the American juggling hero who thrilled international audiences from the 1920s until his last performance in the late 1960s. May died in 1981, but his appeal will only be enhanced in Lippe's film.
It begins with May himself in a late-1970s interview explaining the context of his early work in Vaudeville in the 1920s. Lippe had interviewed him then during research for a film on the history of vaudeville. Short clips of slapstick comedy, contortion and an amazing Risley act set the stage. A quaint home-movie clip shows t-shirted May juggling oversized clubs in his front yard. More clips follow his progress to the stage of the La Scalla opera house in Milan and ice skating performances with Ice Capades.
The piece de resistance, however, is a high-quality seven-minute segment of "The Juggling Fool" produced in 1938 by the Vitaphone Corporation. Vitaphone produced numerous shorts of vaudeville acts during that era, and Lippe found this one of May after an extensive search. The highly contrived premise of the piece, May as a soda jerk who can't hold a job because he's continually tossing things around, doesn't dilute its historical value. May's voice and demeanor in his prime give a feeling for him unavailable in written accounts of his career.
Dick Franco, whose career began through a close association with May, talks about their friendship and explains May's "electric" trick. A clip of Franco juggling on stage demonstrates the influence May had on Franco's career. Besides the help he got from Franco, Lippe said the film was produced with generous help from May's widow, Emily, his son, Robert, and Brian Dube.
The film shows May's considerable technical prowess -- five ball runs with shoulder throws, five ball shower, juggling three upside down in a head stand, four clubs with another balanced on his head, creative work with a hat, ball and cane, and amazing head rolls. The clips also prove that most of the tricks used by today's jugglers have roots that go back at least as far as Bobby May.
It winds up with May as an old man explaining his motivation for his illustrious career, "Besides the act itself, I was fascinated with juggling as a hobby. I really enjoyed doing it all my life."
This superb film will now allow future generations to enjoy it just as much.
The 26-minute copy-protected film is available for $45 from Brian Dube; 25 Park Place; NY, NY 10007.
[The price has now dropped to $29.95. Ed.]