Tuesday, 13 May 2014
"One of us. One of us..."
I can see why this film has been so controversial for so long. It may be a straightforward morality tale about the exploitation of those who look different, but in its very existence in parading its "freaks" as performers it exploits them itself. This is a film that could never be made today, a relic of the "freak shows" of the early twentieth century. Still, morally dodgy though it may be, it`s hard to look behind Freaks the historical curiosity and see Freaks the film.
There`s nothing particularly exciting about the script or the way it`s shot and made by Tod Browning, a rather uninspired director here as he was with Dracula. The subject matter, and the freaks on screen, are the movie`s only selling point. And the straightfowrard plot means that a film of only sixty minutes feels over-long. I dread to think how it would have dragged with the thirty minutes of excised footage, now lost.
We are introduced to thevarious freaks one by one, all of them real and most using their "real" names. The film revolves around Cleopatra, the trapeze artist, and her cruelly cynical seduction of the dwarf Hans, mockingly marrying him for his money and then trying to kill him. Her comeuppance is suitably horrific, and I smiled at the clever way the meaning of the first scene is revealed at the end, after what the "freaks" have done to Cleopatra. The pursuit scenes, and especialy the "one of us" chants are genuinely scary, but is it right to portray the "freaks" as something to fear?
This isn`t a particularly good film, and it is somewhat troubling to watch, but as an historical document it is ghoulishly fascinating.