Monday, May 2, 2011

Freaks (1932)

Half behind-the-scenes showbiz drama, half genuine freakshow, this Tod Browning classic portrays the lives of several sideshow performers, and their relationships. There are several subplots, but the central throughline concerns a dwarf and his troubles with his fiancee as he is conned by the Strongman and the new, physically normal blonde with the troupe. Their plotline is adorable, and exemplifies the point of this production, which is that these physically deformed people go through the same emotional trials as us, "normal" folk. It is the backbone for the rest of the film, which focuses more on the sensationalist aspect of the sideshow, and the human interactions between the motley crew of societal outcasts. The freaks are great; being real-life performers, they are all comfortable in front of the camera, and several (such as the Half-Boy and Angelo Rositto's dwarf) actually possess genuine, magnetic charisma. The dialogue they are given successfully straddles the line between 1930's wholesome banter and genuine, thoughtful, expository interplay. Director Browning, a year into his post-Dracula fame/infamy, deserves a load of credit for portraying this saga with a remarkable amount of confidence, and without a hint of condescension; these are real people, with real problems and feelings, and he knows how to shoot them as such, without ignoring the fact that these are physically deformed people, with handicaps and/or gifts beyond the realm of many of our understandings. This film nearly sank his career, and I am not surprised that it was considered a flop and a travesty until the counter-culture of the 1960's embraced it wholeheartedly (much like another bonafied classic, Fantasia).

Highly Recommended. There is enough substance here for the genuine cinephile, along with a plethora of freakish people doing freakish things to satisfy even the most hardened of sensationalists. A truly brave, wonderful film.

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