Venice during Carnival. Image Source: Viva la Sposa!
Today is the last day of the Carnival in Venice. The festival is almost a thousand years old and commemorates the last hurrah before Lent (there's a brief history of the celebration here). The main site for the event is here. The site for the Duke's Ball is here. The Website Dominican Masks has a little discussion on the significance of the masks and costumes worn during carnival. Masks allow their wearers to experience a metamorphosis. In a related way, they also symbolize the passing of time and the subconscious rituals and superstitions associated with chronal awareness. From the Dominican Masks site:
Thus, as the seasons change, we change. And when we change, we make our fantasies and fears manifest. Below the jump, a mash-up of some curious and strange carnival-related videos.Masks have the power to transform those who wear them. When one wears a mask there is a transformation into someone different. Masks not only change the person wearing them, but also those who interact with them. The most ancient masks were used to represent supernatural spirits or to let us contact higher beings whom we believe may influence our lives. ... Many beliefs celebrate the beginning or the end of a season. ... For the most part, people tend to associate the use of masks with ancient pagan rituals. One wears a mask to seek protection from evil spirits during the time that we believe demons are present.
In the European Christian tradition, the word "carnaval" has been linked to the idea of "good bye to the flesh", referring to the 40 days of lent. During this time, Christians, in particular, Catholics were prescribed not to eat meat according to the traditional religious precepts. Therefore, the days preceding Lent became a period of abandon and indulging. The celebration becomes an escape to the pressure and to the rigidity of religious tradition.
Below is the 1962 B-classic, Carnival of Souls. The tagline for the video explains: "After a traumatic accident a woman becomes drawn to a mysterious, abandoned carnival." The carnival serves as a waypost in purgatory. The beginning has a touch of Blue Velvet about it. You can also watch it at Youtube.
Opening of Robot Carnival (ロボット・カーニバル; 1987). Studio A.P.P.P. Video Source: Youtube.
Robot Carnival: Nightmare. Studio A.P.P.P.Video Source: Youtube.
Duke's Ball in Venice Official Video (Il Ballo del Doge; 2010). Video Source: Youtube.
Caption for the Belgian Carnival in Aalst: UNESCO: Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity - 2010URL: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/RL/00402
Description: When the three-day Aalst Carnaval begins each year on the Sunday before the Christian Lent, it is the culmination of a year of preparation by the inhabitants of this city in East Flanders in northern Belgium. Exuberant and satirical, the celebration features a Prince Carnaval, who symbolically becomes mayor and receives the key to the city in a ceremony marked by ridicule of the city's actual politicians; a procession of effigies of giants and 'Bayard', the horse from the Charlemagne legends; a broom dance in the central market to chase away the ghosts of winter; a parade of young men dressed as women with corsets, prams and broken umbrellas and a ritual burning of the carnival effigy -- accompanied by shouts insisting that the feast will go on for another night. In addition to the carefully-prepared floats of official entrants, informal groups join the festivities to offer mocking interpretations of local and world events of the past year. The 600-year-old ritual, drawing up to 100,000 spectators, is a collective effort of all social classes and a symbol of the town's identity in the region. Constantly recreated by new generations, the ancient carnival's collective laughter and slightly subversive atmosphere celebrate the unity of Aalst.
There is a video about the Rio Carnival in the 1950s here. And for those of you who like a naughty (and funny) blast from the past a few decades later, check out Arnold Schwarzenegger at Rio's Carnival, on Youtube.