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Masters of the impossible
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Masters of the impossible

Zeitschrift Umělec 2004/1

01.01.2004

Jiří Ptáček | full happiness | en cs

“It’s better to be an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life than the other way around.” The sitcom Friends comes to an end this year. But network NBC already has another ace up the sleeve: an animated sitcom called The Father of the Pride. It will be the first TV series completely generated by computer technology. Production will be in the skilled hands of DreamWorks, the same team which a few years ago marked out new territory with the animated feature film Shrek. NBC will begin broadcasting primetime the first 13 episodes in October 2004. The heroes of the story are a family of white lions which perform for a magic show in Las Vegas, to be voiced by Eddie Murphy, Danny De Vito and Lisa Kudrow.
While the characters in Friends were totally made up, the animals from Father of the Pride have their real-life prototypes — the tamed beasts of the Las Vegas magicians Siegried and Roy.

In the beginning there was Germany

Siegfried Fischbacher (1939) and Roy Uwe Ludwig Horn (1944) are another example of the American dream come true. They originally come from Germany where they survived the hardships of the post-war reconstruction of the German nation and society. Siegfried’s childhood was deeply affected by his father’s shattered mind, who was never able to get over the suffering he endured in a Russian gulag. Both boys were interested in magic and mysteries in their childhood, and Siegfried’s professional career was foretold to him by a Hungarian gypsy woman. Roy was the first to develop his affection for animals while working in a zoo in Bremen.
The pair met on a transoceanic cruise in 1957 when Siegfried performed simple magic tricks for the guests. Roy became his assistant and persuaded Siegfried to give up the rabbits for a more lively assistant: a cheetah. Over the next few years they traveled together, moving from one wretched place to another. Only with successes in Monte Carlo and Spain were they able to leave the Old Continent and make for Las Vegas.
Once in Vegas they were finally able to develop their concept of combining multimedia illusion with the circus taming of beasts of prey. The basic plot lines of the stories they create are usually romantic, projections on a large screen, costumes and pyrotechnics. They don’t want to be referred to as magicians — they prefer storytellers. They love spectacle and competently employ valid codes of communication. They never leave Las Vegas with their show, for only within its neon borders can they massage the illusive effects of their performances, and only under the shelter of its genius loci is global distribution achieved. Siegfried and Roy sell the essence of Las Vegas: a pop-culture of debauchery and entertainment which never ends but also costs something. They have their own theater in the Las Vegas: The Mirage Hotel, and every year 700,000 visitors fork from their wallets hundreds of dollars to stay there. Thousands more go to IMAX cinemas to see the 3D film Siegfried & Roy and The Magic Box, the artistic biography of the two magicians.

Jungle Palace and Little Bavaria

The Jungle Palace is both home to Siegrfied and Roy and a paradise in the eclectic spirit. Everything in it finds its own place, as long as it is exclusive. Siegfried and Roy don’t buy trash. In the dome of one of the central halls they painted a copy of Michelangelo’s fresco from the Sistine Chapel, under which they installed a cappuccino bar. Their purchases show flair: sculptures, carpets and furniture from all corners of Asia, from Turkey to Afghanistan through Burma, their salons are heaped with oriental elegance. But they also have a clock which belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. Over the hearth hangs an original Hieronymus Bosch; another salon sports an original interpretation of the Mona Lisa by Pop artist Peter Max.
The rest of Little Bavaria is no different. A multi-layered world of artifacts literally overwhelms the light frame of the house, without it ever losing its country charm. A wooden wayside shrine offers a German touch within the ranges of the Arcadian garden, where Siegfried comes to think about his German roots. Animals roam freely everywhere, mostly lions (and not only white lions, but also the “beige” ones), tigers, but also a donkey, roe deer, a dog, swans. “It is where we actually live since almost 30 years,” says Roy. “It’s extremely lush and it’s green; whereas when we came to Las Vegas for the first time, there weren’t many trees there…” Says Siegfried: “It was no green, no grass, no birds singing. So we had to create our own world.”
Siegfried and Roy own 55 tigers and 23 lions and for decades they have helped to protect felines. They treat the animals like home pets, who communicate with them emotionally. “We do everything together. I meditate wizz ‘em, I swim wizz ‘em… There has been pillow fights,” Roy says in answer to journalists’ questions, which are often malicious. Only the private rooms are forbidden to the animals.

SARMOTI
There are many examples of eccentric lifestyles in the world. Elton John was admonished by the English courts for his unbridled spending; Michael Jackson has his mysterious Neverland. Siegfried and Roy are different. They are able to present their positions and interests with perfection. They are not only performing roles for an act — they invite us into their private world of ideal and polished form. They put out luxurious publications about their homey life and fill them with pictures of utter relaxation soaked in the beauty of palaces, gardens and in the play of cats. Darker Roy is always smiling, Siegfried’s happiness-type is one of pensive concentration. Siegfried also enjoys referring to another form of love, embodied by his sister, Margit, also known by her nun’s name Dolore. Dolore spent many years in a Franciscan monastery in Romania and knew nothing of her brother’s success. For Siegfried her care for humankind is a powerful spiritual inspiration. The legacy of St. Francis corresponded with Siegrfried’s conservationist activities, and after the fall of the communist regime Dolore began cooperating with both magicians on projects for children and dolphins.
The world of Siegfried and Roy is a Noah’s arc on whose deck you cannot tread, however you delight in it vicariously from a distance. As if in the background there were a deeper dimension: the happiness of human coexistence. The gutter press is incapable of dealing with the massive self-representation of Siegfried and Roy, and the magicians have become an icon of “magical” harmony, without conflict.
Work and relaxation are, in their case, so interwoven that it is unclear what viewers are attracted to most in their show. The biographical angle of the film Siegfried and Roy and the Magic Box implies that the harmony of their mini paradise is most likely the greatest attraction. Siegfried says, “When the curtain comes down, we are the same on stage that we are at home. Our home is the stage, and the stage is our home.” Both are both.
A characteristic aspect of their presented lifestyle is a Paradisiacal absence of sexuality, either animal, or human. Siegfried and Roy do not allow anything that could raise unsavory speculation to stain their image. The magical formula SARMOTI (the magicians names plus Masters of the Impossible, analogous to “abracadabra”) takes on a transpersonal relationship and becomes a magic of the represented, beyond which any investigation is doomed to fail.

Total happiness

On the day of Roy’s 49th birthday he was in the middle of an evening performance when one of the tigers pounced on him and injured him badly. He was brought to the hospital with a serious wound to the neck. His partner refused to discuss the dangers of working with large animals. He pointed out that the tiger mistook his master for a woman with big hair in the front row. Roy fought for his life and Siegfried stubbornly praised his strong will: “I always say I’m the magician, and he’s the magic.” A few months later, on Christmas 2003, Roy was allowed to go home from the hospital. He survived the ordeal and was not bitter, and the scriptwriters of Father of the Pride promised to work in the tiger attack.
Las Vegas is not a city of lies and deceit. It’s a city of altered laws of existence. It’s a city where the notion that money equals happiness applies, and can be absolute, and where fiction and reality have always been synonymous.




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