Freaks (1931)

Two items of note appear on the DVD for Freaks. The first is a fairly lengthy written prologue (original) attempting to enlighten the viewer (in very 1930’sy language) of the plight and perhaps vibrance of the disabled, the abnormally formed, injured, amputated — freaks, in short. Then there is a short documentary in the special features telling the story of Freaks, its creation, creator, and cast. In this documentary, one of the film scholars says that there are a diverse number of reactions to Freaks. Some people are horrified ( stories abound of it’s first run in theatres ranging from women screaming and running out of the theatre, to one woman being so disturbed she miscarried.) Some people are fascinated. Some find it inhuman. Other find it remarkable human, even compassionate. You can throw me in that last category. If, as a viewer, you are able to look past some of the rougher-edged 30’s vernacular, underneath lies a love letter to The Different among us.

Now, for some context, I’m at present contemplating attending my ten -year high school reunion, and frankly, I feel as though running off to a sideshow wagon that forever travels the unbeaten path of the “weird” would be much more my style, as opposed to bellying up to a bar I never even went to when I lived at home. How can you be nostalgic for something that never was yours to begin with? So you can see that watching Freaks, for me, was well-timed.

In short, I loved this film. After viewing Dracula, and now this, I’ve also become entranced with Tod Browning. Unfortunately, Freaks virtually ended his career. It was too bizarre, too grotesque, too, well, freakish for Hollywood at the time. And yet, thank God he made this film, because I don’t know that Hollywood is that capable of compassion now. Was it ever? I have no idea. I live in Chicago. I’ve never been to California.

The point is he took a big big risk and it basically ended him. The movie fairly flopped once the novelty wore off (it was banned well until the sixties in some states.) But then, in the late sixties, the flower children discovered it. So it became an art house hit. It has steadily gained audience since then, I imagine amongst folks like me, who appear “normal” on the outside but feel like bonafide sideshow attraction on the inside sometimes. Every day at lunch, as I walk amidst the Banana Republic and Ann Taylor-clad masses, I look down at the attire that looked “office-appropriate” to me in my boudoir, now appears as if I’m Joan Crawford and I woke up in a pile of cats. Actually…
Clothing can be shed, hair can be styled, of course. I wouldn’t dare assert that my inability to fit into a corporate world matches that of Prince Randian, the famed “Living Torso,” a man born without arms or legs. But I think many of you know what it’s like to look out at a world that is functioning on a completely separate and unrelated level of comprehension than your own. It would be nice to have a little camp of Ne’er do wells, parked in an empty lot in the Loop having a picnic and shouting “One of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, One of us!” A unsuspecting executive happening upon a scene like that might wear a hole in his wingtips. Oh wait. I only wish these guys were wearing wingtips. I don’t know even know the name of those elfin looking dress shoes all the boys seem to be wearing. Talk about Peter Pan syndrome…forgive me, I digress.

Meanwhile, Freaks is one of the better “Backstage Dramas” I’ve seen. At it’s heart, this movie is a soap about performers and their bohemian lives once the lights go down. Imagine if Tim Burton were to direct a remake of Fame!, that’s Freaks.

5 kitties out of 5. Reee-ow.

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