Superhuman ability, or trickery?
August 11, 2010 8:53 PM   Subscribe

In this YouTube video linked over at kottke today, we see some astonishing gymnastic 'dancing' by the Ross Sisters in 'Solid Potato Salad'. But some of it just seems beyond belief -the scene in the wagon ... and the apple in the hayloft (!). Was this for real, or was there camera trickery involved?
posted by woodblock100 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
From a comment on this blog post:
This brings back memories!"Contorsionism" was very popular when I was a young girl in the 1940's. It was called Tumbling and Acrobatics then and dance schools, even in my small town of Anacortes, WA, offered it along with ballet. We had to suffer thru it in our gym classes in the 1950's...those who could of course, the rest of us tried and were given a "C" for that quarter's class. I had a classmate in grade school that took Tumbling classes and who performed at Talent Nights at the local theater..we were all in awe of our red-headed, human pretzel, school friend. It was an accepted, not unusual, form of excercise, without the errotic connotations of today.
I don't think the special effects that would have been required to produce this even existed in the 1940s. Look at "big budget" movie effects from that era; they're extremely obvious. I can't imagine they'd spend even the same amount of money on a production like this. I don't have the stomach to search for (contemporary) Chinese contortionists but I know I've seen people do similar things. Bizarre but entirely possible.
posted by desjardins at 9:05 PM on August 11, 2010

There's nothing there I haven't seen extremely talented and highly trained contortionists do live, so....
posted by The Whelk at 9:07 PM on August 11, 2010

I've always assumed it was real. And that's the sharpest version of it I've ever seen - thanks for posting it.
posted by Badmichelle at 9:11 PM on August 11, 2010

Yeah, I've seen Chinese acrobats doing crazier stuff live. Entirely possible.

posted by benzenedream at 9:24 PM on August 11, 2010

Totally real and possible, although it takes a ton of training. I have also seen Chinese girls contortionists in Beijing that did all kinds of crazy stuff like that live.
posted by gemmy at 9:44 PM on August 11, 2010

Here's a picture of them in 1946, six years after Potato Salad was filmed as they arrived at Waterloo Station to be in a London variety show. The performance is, shall we say, solid.
posted by Anitanola at 9:44 PM on August 11, 2010

Response by poster: The 'contorsionist' aspect of this I have no trouble with; I too have seen (video of) similar Chinese performers. It's that I don't get the physics here - it just doesn't seem possible that she could apply enough 'leverage' to her feet to pull herself up out of that wagon. But with the help of some (very fine) wires ... ??
posted by woodblock100 at 11:10 PM on August 11, 2010

I can't quite see how they did it, but I think the part where she pulls herself back up from the cart actually uses reversed footage- something about the way her head slides back in so fast and the way her hands sit on her legs doesn't read quite right to me.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:26 PM on August 11, 2010

As a kid, I was one of the contortionists in a small traveling troupe. I certainly never tried anything like that apple or wagon routine, but here's my input from my experience, whatever it's worth.

It is entirely possible, provided that there is something that keeps the feet locked in place. I don't see anything visible in the video, but her feet are probably pushing against something, or are secured in a small groove. The soles of her shoes are visible - which means the shoes either have really good traction, or they're pushing against something. When she lowers herself to the very bottom, you can see her jolt as she relaxes at the bottom - without any support, her feet would have slipped out from under her. As for rising back up, it's just a matter of locking the knees in to stay balanced and sturdy, then straightening up from the backbend. And if she did it without any support - well, that's more than I ever did, and I thought I had done it all. Or maybe her shoes just have really good traction, and she had really strong toes and heels.
posted by Xere at 11:48 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you look closely at around 2:10, you can see a slight "ledge" along the outer edge of the platform on the wagon. When Ms. Ross puts her feet back on the platform, she hooks them against this ledge, which allows her to pull forward, as Xere says above. From there, it's "just" a roll-up from a deep backbend, which is repeated in the hayloft sequence. A good use of physics, but hardly trickery. Them gals had talent! (Though truthfully this vid always makes me a little queasy.)
posted by Paris Elk at 1:04 AM on August 12, 2010

Dixie Ross married Dickie Henderson, well known British entertainer of the 1950s-70s
posted by A189Nut at 3:55 AM on August 12, 2010

I see the apple in the hayloft part jump up to meet the girl. I don't think it's a case of it having been filmed in reverse, but maybe it took her a few seconds too long to pick it up, they cropped it and it's a choppy edit?
posted by noxetlux at 9:13 AM on August 12, 2010

I think it just jogged a bit when she grabbed the stem of the apple, but it's hard to tell.
posted by Chris4d at 8:54 AM on August 13, 2010

« Older [How] Can I safely repair the nick in this...   |   Freezer with icicles. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.