The sights and smells of the carnival midway are nostalgically familiar: funnel cakes, carousel calliope music, and the sounds of hearts breaking when amusement park goers plunk down a few bucks to try to win the biggest stuffed animal in the place. Not all carnival games get rigged, but some stack the odds. Here’s a look at five common fixes for midway games.
1. KNOCK OVER THE MILK BOTTLES
It’s probably the most straightforward game on the midway: A carnival worker stacks three milk bottles in a pyramid, hands you a softball, and you cash in on your best Nolan Ryan impression, right? It’s not usually that simple. Bottles stacked on the bottom are often filled with lead and weigh in at 10 pounds, and the softball you’re given puts an emphasis on soft—they may be filled with cork to make them lighter.
Before you step back and let that dart fly, remember you’re playing with what the house gives you. Dull darts (and often ones that are lighter to throw than store-bought darts) are often used in the game, and some carnival employees even heat the tips to make popping balloons more difficult.
But the balloons are equally deceptive: They might look ready to burst, but they’re usually inflated to just 30 percent of their full air capacity, making them tough to pop. The reason the balloons are a rainbow of different colors isn’t just to make the booth more alluring—it’s a distraction technique, too.
The rims aren’t the only thing that wouldn’t fly with NBA regulations: basketballs are often overinflated to give them an extra bounce, and Glenn Hester, a police officer from Georgia who specializes in carnival games fraud (he’s penned a book called Carnival Cop) says that “there may be netting or other items behind the rim designed to interfere with your depth perception.”
4. RING TOSS
When a carnival worker slides a ring around a pole to show how easy the game is, that’s because the game is exactly that simple—at least from where the employee is standing (usually somewhere where he can just drop the ring from directly overhead and with a ring that’s wider than the one he’ll give you to toss).
The Carnival Cop warns about the pitfalls of ring toss games in his book as well: The rings are just barely wider than the bottlenecks, Hester says, and are made of hard plastic so they’re more likely to bounce around than loop around your target.
5. BALL BOUNCE
Though it doesn’t have quite the infamy of the Tubs of Fun (and the New Hampshire man who blew his life savings playing the game earlier this year), bouncing a plastic ball off a vertical board and into a basket is no easy task. Carnival workers told the Today Show’s Jeff Rossen that what players don’t see is a spring behind the tub that bounces the balls back out.
Like in the ring toss, carnival workers have prime real estate to make the game look easy. Carnival workers standing right next to the board can lightly brush the ball against the board when they throw—there’s a lot less bounce-back from that angle.
More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.
Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.
Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.
1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)
A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.
2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)
Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.
3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)
The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”
4. WOODSTOCK (1970)
The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.
5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)
Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.
6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)
Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.
7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)
Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.
8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)
It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.
9. RHYME & REASON (1997)
An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.
10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)
For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.
11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)
Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.
12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)
It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).
13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)
A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.
More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. Here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.
“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”
ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES
“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”
“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”
ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”
“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”
“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”
ON THE ARMY
“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”
“The army teaches boys to think like men.”
“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”
ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES
“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”
“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”
ON KEEPING POSITIVE
“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”
“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”
“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”
“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”
“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”
“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”
ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD
“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”
ON GETTING OLDER
“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”