Directed by Tod Browning. US. 1932. NR. 64 minutes.
Sun., September 28, 2008
Freaks is without a doubt, one of the most bizarre and fascinating films ever made. Directed by Tod Browning, who brought us the original Dracula and several of Lon Chaney’s most famous performances, the film draws upon Browning’s own background as a circus and carnival worker. Its story is a simple one; a glamorous trapeze artist and her strong-man lover plot to have her marry and kill a sideshow midget for his inheritance. Then, as they say, their plan goes horribly wrong. What makes this film so special is the fact that Browning recruited real side-show “freaks” to play themselves, and provided a climax that, even today, does not fail to shock and confound.
Upon its release, the film was reviled and castigated by reviewers, and for over thirty years was banned in many countries. However, as time has passed, Freaks has achieved cult status, largely because of the sensitivity and genuine empathy shown to people who are outcasts because they are “nature’s mistakes.” As is noted in The Motion Picture Guide: “The real-life freaks that Browning collected for this superb film of the grotesque are much more appealing than most of the “normal” people in the production, exhibiting the kind of loyalty and group protection seldom found in the normal world.” If you’ve never seen this masterpiece, be prepared to be touched and moved in ways that you never would expect.
Freaks will be preceded by a screening of The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, a 20 minute short written by Tod Browning in 1916 and starring Douglas Fairbanks. Live musical accompaniment by Wayne Zimmerman of theTheatre Organ Society of the Delaware Valley. Wayne will also play the organ from 1:30pm until show time, so come early if you can!
From Time Out London: "This legendary comedy short is crude and ramshackle but lives up to its reputation for unorthodox content. Fairbanks, with his air of commotion and excitability, often seemed to be under the influence of something or other – a thought which was presumably the genesis of this picture. He plays private eye Coke Ennyday, who is festooned with hypodermics, keeps a bowl of cocaine on his desk as big as Pacino's in Scarface, and whose preferred tipple is a compound of laudanum and prussic acid. Humour, 1916. It's Coke vs a gang of opium smugglers who bring the stuff ashore in rubber fish inflated by a teenage Bessie Love. Billed as 'Inane, the little fish blower', she parodies the cliché of the helpless waif with great exuberance."