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Movie Review: Bally-Master

By Mike Everleth ⋅ August 21, 2008

Scott Baker hammers a nail into his nose

Scott Baker seems like the kind of guy who could star in a wickedly entertaining movie even if all a director did was sit him in front of a blank white wall by himself for the entire runtime. Documentarian Gary Beeber puts that theory to the test — to a large degree at least — for Bally-Master.

No, the entire film is not just Baker in front of a white wall, although a good portion of it is. And yes, the dude is so wickedly entertaining that you don’t want to pull your eyes off of him lest you’ll miss one of his crazy jokes, tricks, gags, etc. The guy is that good.

Scott Baker works for Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore, one of the last true genuine sideshows in the country. When I lived in Brooklyn for a few years, I only went to Coney Island a couple of times, but I loved that place and I remember it fondly. There’s just something in the salt air there that’s truly magical — and a little bit frightening.

That’s the sell for Sideshows by the Seashore, where I did attend one performance on one of my visits. Sadly — at least now in retrospect — Baker wasn’t performing. Oh, I still had a grand ol’ time, but Baker is a real one of a kind.

He’s the barker who stands out front, tells corny jokes and interacts with the passerby to entice them to go in:  IF THEY DARE! Then, once inside, he’s the show MC who performs magic tricks and gross-out stunts, like pounding a nail into his nose, eating glass, piercing his skin with a needle and other fun stuff. It’s all mildly disgusting, but performed in such a fun way that you’re not sure if you’re going to barf from witnessing these abominable acts or from laughing so hard.

We don’t get to see the stage show in Bally-Master, which I would assume it’s official sideshow policy not to let it be recorded so as to not ruin the mystique of it all. Therefore, Baker performs different portions of his act in the film just in front of a white wall for the camera. But Beeber puts the camera really close to his subject for an intimate feeling that he’s performing just for you and you alone. Baker has a way of speaking that draws you in like you’re his best friend in the whole wide world and that he’s going to tell a joke that’s meant for just you and him.

With the blank wall behind him and the camera in tight on his face, Baker has nowhere to hide within his act. His act is him and he is his act. Even when he gives his background and tells stories about himself as a young man falling for carnival barkers and meeting Gypsy Rose Lee backstage after a show, it’s not so much a life we’re hearing about, but a mythology.

We do get some glimpses of Baker doing his schtick outside the Sideshow to a gathered Coney Island crowd, as well as his second job as a Bloomingdale’s Santa Claus. Plus, there are a few testimonials from Baker’s friends and co-workers, but the film really belongs to Baker in front of that white wall.

Not everyone can make it down to Coney Island, but Beeber has given us the next best thing: a film that’s a little mysterious, a little frightening, very funny and hugely entertaining. Just like Sideshows by the Seashore and Scott Baker himself.

More on this film: IndiePix

Watch the Bally-Master movie trailer: