Short but Informative documentary about a legendary film...
Tod Browning's "Freaks" is without a doubt one of the most controversial movies ever made, and certainly one of the most interesting too. Made in the early 30s, the film became notorious not only for its subject matter (the story of a midget in love with a "normal" woman), but because it used real sideshow "freaks" to play the actors of the movie, showing their lives and stories to a wide audience. This was considered too shocking and disgusting for the audiences of its time, and the film became forbidden and censored, tragic events that cost Browning his career and attempted to send "Freaks" to oblivion. fortunately, it didn't happened that way, and "Freaks" has finally received its well-deserved praise as a classic of cinema and a movie ahead of its time. "Tod Brownint's Freaks: The Sideshow Cinema" is a documentary produced by Warner Home Video to celebrate the re-release of "Freaks" in DVD format.
"The Sideshow Cinema" is hosted by film writer David J. Skal, who is probably the most reliable source of information about the 30s horror films (he has also hosted documentaries for Universal's "Frankenstein" and wrote a book, "The Monster Show", about the horror films of that era). In an entertaining and informative way, Skal narrates the story behind "Freaks", as the brainchild of director Tod Browning and star Harry Earles, as well as offering a background about the mysterious past of director Tod Browning. Besides Skal's interesting comments about the movie "Freaks", the documentary talks about the amazing cast of sideshow performers reunited for the film; for this Skal is joined by real sideshow performers and historians of sideshow circus like Jerry Maren, Johnny Meah and Todd Robbins, to explain the lives of this amazing people.
While Skal's comments are of high informative value, what makes "The Sideshow Cinema" more interesting are the certainly the comments about the real lives of the movie's cast. Johnny Meah and Jerry Maren's interviews are of great interest, as they actually met and worked with members of the cast like Harry Earles himself and Schlitze the Pinhead. The anecdotes and information they give is of great interest for fans of the film, as they offer great insight of the real personalities of the sideshow performers. Included as well are interviews with Mark Povinelli and Jennifer Miller, modern sideshow performers who speak about how times have changed and how "Freaks" was truly a film ahead of its time in terms of giving a chance to different people to work. Their comments about the nature of exploitation are really interesting, and they go at great length at explaining why in their opinion, "Freaks" was anything but exploitative.
Showed in the film are fragments of the film "Freaks", as well as a varied collection of photographs of sideshows of the era and of the film's production, as well as short video's of the cast's other works (including Johnny Eck's role in "Tarzan the Ape Man"). Director John Rust, an experienced director of similar documentaries, divides the film in "chapters", each one dedicated to a certain theme, giving his film consistence and making it to flow nicely. While the film is of an appropriate runtime, the subject matter is so interesting that one keeps asking for more. Probably that would be the film's only flaw, as often it seems that very few time is dedicated to a given topic or biography.
While it is certainly short and some topics are not properly explored (due to time constrains probably), this short documentary is very informative for fans who loved "Freaks" and want to get introduced to what happened behind scenes. It is certainly not the definitive documentary about "Freaks" or Sideshows in general, but it's a fitting introduction to this subjects and a nice film to get a glimpse of this interesting but often forgotten part of show business history. One would have loved a more in depth discussion about Tod Browning's career, but the movie does a great work in the short biography Skal provides. 7/10
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