Stomachs of Steel

Enter the amazing world of sword-swallowers and meet some of the fearless performers who swallow 24 inches of steel for a living.

Produced by NHNZ

If you thought sword swallowing was just a trick, think again – it’s real and it’s deadly. Each time sword swallowers perform, they risk severing their intestines, skewering their heart and even killing themselves.

Even among carnival people it’s regarded as closer to stupid than brave. “Fire-eating, the nails in the nose, those are things that, when done right, can be safe,” says swallower Tom Robbins. “However sword-swallowing is stupidly dangerous.”

So why do they do it? And how do they survive? To find out, Stomachs of Steel ventures deep inside both the sword-swallowing sub-culture and the performers themselves. This once-in-a-lifetime journey, using a minuscule camera attached to a sword and full motion x-ray fluoroscopy venture inside the bodies of those who perform this bizarre and dangerous act for a living.

Meet Sideshow Bennie, ‘The Man Who Can Do Anything’, except what he truly aspires to – swallowing a sword. We follow him on his quest to become a member of this select subculture. To do so he must overcome his body’s natural defenses, and slide 24 inches of solid steel down his gullet.  As he attempts to swallow his first sword Bennie depends on the help of the legends of sword swallowing, those who are willing to break the traditional code of silence that veils the art, to bring him into their fold.

Among the artists we meet are Natasha Verushka the exotic belly dancing sword swallower who almost bled to death after an accident in 2002; Dai Andrews, one of the few people in history to swallow a curved blade; Johnny Fox who has swallowed an incredible 15 blades at once; and Alex Tomaini a member of one of America’s greatest carnival dynasties and who, at 14, aims to become the world’s youngest sword swallower.

We’ll introduce these great swallowers to a team of doctors anxious to discover the mechanics of this most improbable of performance arts, and with the help of full-motion, x-ray fluoroscopy, Stomachs of Steel reveals how it’s possible for the soft, fine membranes of the oesophagus and stomach to accommodate 24 inches of steel. What can science teach these performers?  And what can they teach science?

But, most intriguingly, Stomachs of Steel discovers the humor, determination and passion that compels these fearless few to overcome pain and risk their lives, to keep their audience happy and to keep a dying art alive.

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