[Originally published in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]
Three people warned me off Carny before I went to see it. I went anyway, partly to see Gary Busey and partly because I had a feeling about it. I canâ€™t articulate that feeling any more now that Iâ€™ve seen the film than I could before I went to it; but Iâ€™m glad I saw it. Not that itâ€™s a really terrific movieâ€”not by a long shot. In fact, itâ€™s easier to list the reasons I didnâ€™t have for liking Carny than the ones I had. Originality, for example: the film is strictly Nashville meets Freaks on Nightmare Alley (but Robertson and Kaylor draw from good sources). Technically, the film is uninventive, and often downright poor (for example, the transparent and awful stunt work in the shot where Elisha Cook is supposed to be run down by a car). The film suffers from uncertain and inappropriately slow pacing, too, brought on mostly by indecision as to which particular subplot should become the main plot, or whether any of them should. Well, itâ€™s the freedom of the documentary filmmaker not to be limited by having to tell a story, and Carny is just the sort of film one might expect a documentary director to make on his first sortie into fictional narrative cinema. Wisely, Kaylor doesnâ€™t abuse his freedom from plot by leaving his film formless. Instead he builds it around character. Andâ€”again, as might be expected of a documentaristâ€”in this film, character is inseparable from performance.