Crossing the Line – FreaksPosted: May 22, 2008
A second column without any sex, rape, or murder! Freaks is a 1932 classic by Tod Browning, and features a collection of real freak show members. Let’s have some fun at the expense of the handicapped shall we?
Tagline: Can a full grown woman truly love a MIDGET ?
Interesting Fact: F.Scott Fitzgerald was a member of the MGM writing department at the time the movie was in production. He never felt quite at home with all the movie stars and powerful moguls, and so he often dined in the commissary at the table of the sideshow attractions (freaks) during his lunch hour.
Objectionable material: Evidence against a loving God, A woman with no arms, a man with no legs, a man with no arms and no legs, conjoined twins, a half-man/half-woman, short people, A BIG IMPORTANT MORAL MESSAGE, bearded lady baby, microcephalics, a bird man (or woman?), Man’s Inhumanity to Man, Germans
Disturbing Quote: “We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!”
Psycholarry: There’s so much that Freaks could have been. Stanley Kubrick behind the helm of this movie would have created the creepiest movie known to man. George Lucas would have found a way to fit more midgets into a film with a German midget couple as the main characters. David Lynch would have the midgets talk backwards and dance with cheerleaders. Bob Villa would have built everyone a house. Unfortunately, “Freaks” was made in the only time it could have been made. As far as I know freak shows no longer exist, and if they did the public would never accept the kind of exploitation required from the film. Make up and special effects would not have the same effect as seeing a real life microcephalic running around. Freaky (ha!) bastards.
The film is short and the director really does very little to actually emphasize what’s going on and how strange this world is, despite how almost normal everyone is. I can’t think of any film that has made drinking wine and lighting cigarettes look like part of a fever dream. Despite the shortfalls that one would expect of extremely early film and untrained actors, the film is creepy. If you can sit and watch a legless man crawl towards you with a knife in his teeth and not make some skid marks in your pants then you are some sort of steel hearted bastard.
Minus the deleted scenes showing the mutilation of Cleopatra and castration of the strong man, very little happens to actively terrify you, and in fact this is the tamest movie we’ve viewed so far, but you can’t beat it for creating a sense that everything you’ve ever known about the world is horribly wrong.
Screaming Girl: Freaks is the heartwarming love story that takes a very dark turn for the worst. It’s the age old story of a man who falls in love with a woman who is beyond his reach only to ignore the woman who actually loves him. Except replace the man with a German midget (are we allowed to call them midgets?) the woman who actually loves him can also be replaced with a German midget and the “other woman” can be replaced with a gold digging, über bitch trapeze/tightrope/horse rider/whatever her role in the circus. Oh and über bitch is collaborating with the strong man who has serious issues (compensating maybe?).
The side stories include a love affair with conjoined twins, a clown and his girlfriend who seem to be a foil to über bitch and strong man, and a revolving door of circus folk including a man missing both arms and both legs who is really good at lighting his own cigarette. I have both arms and legs and have almost set my hair on fire a handful of times. Needless to say, über bitch gets her comeuppance at the end of the movie.
Aside from the fact that the movie was made in the early days of film and lacks the luster and sound quality of modern films I really liked it. The movie raises the question: “Who are the real freaks?” Plus no one got raped!
Gooble Gobble Gooble Gobble.
MBRFT: Clocking in at a little over an hour, “Freaks” fulfills every expectation I had after hearing the title. We get to see real live people afflicted with obscure carnival-friendly disabilities! And we also learn a valuable lesson about how the normies who try to take advantage of them are the real “freaks.” Arguably, the normies who made the movie also exploit them by dressing many of them in drag and letting us gawk at them from the safety of our living rooms (or cramped movie house for those who saw it when it was released 75 years ago). If the director had just used makeup effects to simulate freaks, then this thing would probably be long forgotten.
It’s a pretty standard moral tale with a sparse plot and a glimpse inside a lovable but viciously protective band of carnies. There are some very entertaining b-stories to pad out the narrative. At times, it felt like a carnie Melrose Place with Siamese* twin hook-ups and bearded lady pregnancies. They easily could have flushed this out to a highly entertaining and immoral prime time series. Political correctness aside, the film does break ground by giving a little person a leading role and treating it’s titular characters with some degree of respect for a film from 1932 (especially when they crawl through the mud to hunt a woman down and chicken-ize her). In some ways, “Freaks” paved the way for Corky on “Life Goes On.” And isn’t that what’s really important? I love that kid.
*I know we’re supposed to call them conjoined twins but they’ll always be Siamese to me*
Next week we get back on the murder and rape tract with Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs”! I prefer to call it Dustin Hoffman’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.