Posts Tagged ‘sideshows’
There is no way to elegantly transition into my next subject, so I shall not even bother to try. The Heights theater is playing “Freaks” tonight, and, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a must see — unless you get upset at movies, in which case it is a mustn’t see. the film is by Tod Browning, who helmed the original “Dracula” in 1931, and made this film a year later, only to see it almost immediately banned and denied any sort of public showing for most of his life, and for most of the 20th century. It was long one of those legendary underground pictures that everybody talked about and nobody saw. I recall hearing about it from childhood on, and did not manage to see it until I was in my 20s. I own a copy now, but will still see it in the theaters when I get a chance, because it was denied theatrical showings for so long. What’s the big deal, you may be asking? Well, Browning had some history with sideshows, and so created a sideshow parable based on an especially vicious short story called “Spurs,” which was impossible to find for years and so I went ahead and created a PDF of it about seven years ago, which is still available online. the story tells of a tragic midway love triangle, or quadrangle, more properly. a heartless trapeze artist and her strongman boyfriend conspire to have her marry a little person and then poison him for his money. Eventually, the other sideshow performers find out. On a stormy night, lit by flashes of lightning, they exact a terrible revenge. Browning made the mistake of casting actual sideshow performers in this film, which may be part of the reason it was banned. But once you have gotten accustomed to the movie, you can appreciate was an extraordinary cast he actually put together. there are the Hilton sisters, conjoined twins who are sweet, soft spoken, musically talented, and who formed the basis for the musical “Sideshow.” there is Johnny Eck, who was missing the lower half of his torso and so walked around on his hands, and who had a boyish, striking face and later retired to Baltimore to create paintings on screen doors, which is a sort of folk art in Baltimore. there is Angelo Rossitto, a dwarf whose film career was extraordinary, spanning 58 years and culminating in a roll in “Mad Max: beyond Thunderdome.” And there were a group of performers with microcephaly, Schlitzie, Elvira Snow and Jenny Lee Snow, whose appearance in the film in dresses and bowed hair inspired the look of the cartoon character Zippy the Pinhead. Cast members have complained about Browning, mostly, as I recall, because they feel they weren’t paid enough, but in the text of the film itself he shows great respect for his characters — they aren’t treated as being monstrous until the climax, and their violence then has been carefully justified. the climactic scene in the rain is genuinely harrowing — more frightening than the entirety of “Dracula,” which was stagy and creaky. And the film has one other sequence that has entered the lexicon of popular culture, even if, for years, people didn’t know its source. During the trapeze artist’s marriage to her victim, a loving cup is passed around the table, and the sideshow performers begin to pound on the table, welcoming the murderous woman into their fold with a chant of “Gobble gobble gobble, we accept her, we accept her, one of us.” the punk band the Ramones later worked a half-remembered version of this into the refrain from their song “Pinhead,” singing “Gabba Gabba Hey,” which ended up being one of the catchphrases of the band, and of the punk movement in general. All this is either going to convince you that you must see the movie, or must stay the hell away. I wouldn’t blame you if you choose the latter. I’m just glad the movie is available in theaters, so you can make the choice, rather than having it made for you.