Freaks

Freaks film

The film Freaks(1932), directed by Tod Browning tells the story of sideshow performers in a traveling circus. Browning grew up in the circus, and cast people with actual deformities as the “freaks” in the film. Freaks is a controversial film that was ahead of its time, and can be seen as either unethical or sympathetic in its portrayal of the “freaks.”

Freaks is a pre-code film, meaning that it didn’t have to follow the strict restrictions of the Motion Picture Production Code (Fallows). As mentioned earlier, Browning cast people with actual deformities, which caused lots of controversy.  Browning is criticized for this choice, because many of the people who were cast as the “freaks” were unable to coherently give consent for their work. The presence of actual freaks caused lots of problems in the MGM studio, and as a result one of the films producers Harry Rapf, tried to stop production, but failed to do so. During production the majority of the cast was forced to eat outside, because the studio didn’t want to disturb too many people (Smith). For the majority of the film, Browning does not exploit the “freaks,” but the end act can be seen as exploiting the “freaks.” FREAKS scaryIn this scene the “freaks” take their revenge on the antagonist characters,  the audience see’s the “freaks” crawling through the mud and rain carrying weapons preparing for their revenge.  This could be considered as exploiting the “freaks,” because this scene depicts them almost as monsters and the tone of the scene is so dark.   

 

It wasn’t until 1962 at the Cannes Film Festival when the film was finally received positive acclaim. During this time the counter culture generation had embraced the term “freak,” and the film found new life making it the first cult film.  Most of the film portrays the “freaks” in a sympathetic manner, and while all the people in the story are freaks day to daycircus performers, the film never shows performances from the “freaks.” Instead Browning shows the audience the “freaks” every day lives, and shows them doing typical things like eating, drinking, and other day to day activities. Browning also shows the “freaks” struggling with the same issues many people have, this is seen with the Siamese twins trying to balance their relationship and family.  The real “freaks” of the film are actually the “normal” characters, and the audience never see’s the freaks do anything bad until the end of the film.  Although the end scene where the “freaks” extract their revenge does exploit the “freaks,” the audience does see that Hans does end up feeling bad about what happened to Cleopatra and Hercules.

Overall, the controversy associated with this film is very interesting and depending on your beliefs it can be seen as exploitation or sympathetic in its portrayal. However, the message is the same in that outward beauty is only skin deep and treating people based on their appearance is a true atrocity.

Sources:

Smith, Justine. “The Ethics of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) – Sound On Sight.”Sound On Sight. N.p., n.d. Web.  http://www.soundonsight.org/the-ethics-of-tod-brownings-freaks-1932/

Fallows, Tom. “After Dark: Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932) Review.” WhatCulture After Dark Tod Brownings FREAKS 1932 Review Comments. N.p., n.d. Web http://whatculture.com/film/freaks-1932.php

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Cape Fear Character Transformations

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The novel  “Cape Fear,” originally titled “The Executioners,” by John D. MacDonald is the basis for the both film versions of the novel.  MacDonald’s novel is more of an outline for director Martin Scorsese’s version of Cape Fear (1991), while Thomas’s Cape Fear (1962) follows the storyline of the novel closely and maintains the tone of Macdonald’s novel.  Scorsese’s adaptation is a modern and more realistic take of the story, and looks deeply into other characters besides Sam Bowden. The audience is shown that Sam and his family aren’t a picture perfect family like seen in both “Cape Fear,” the novel and Cape Fear (1962).  Instead these characters are flawed and have problems, making them seem relatable.  The transformation of the female characters in Cape Fear (1991) is refreshing change because the characters transform from static characters to dynamic characters.

 

Danielle (Juliette Lewis) is the daughter of Sam Bowden, in the novel and previous film version she is changed drastically.  In Cape Fear (1962) Nancy was the original name for Danielle, and Nancy is the epitome of the “perfect daughter.” She always listens to her parents, does well in school, and is not rebellious in any way.  Danielle, however can be rebellious, and has a far more important role in the new version. In Cape Fear (1991) Danielle, seems to be slightly older than Nancy, and she definitely acts so.  The audience learns that she was caught smoking marijuana, which would never have been in previous versions of the story.  Her curiosity often leads her to trouble, for insistence when she doesn’t immediately leave Cady in the theater and even lets him kiss her.  She even defends Cady, and at first doesn’t think he’s much of threat, even though Sam warns her. Although Danielle has more edge, she is still innocent and naive Danielle is shown wearing white often, which represents her innocence.

 

Leigh is another character that is considerably different from the novel and early adaptation.  Jessica Lange portrays Leigh, and she is modernized and seems like a strong woman.  Unlike the other adaptations, Leigh has a job as a graphic artist, and she has a certain spark to her.  She smokes cigarettes frequently, and she is almost sarcastic at times, often rolling her eyes at Sam.  Her relationship with Sam is far more complicated, because of Sam’s past infidelity.  Leigh doesn’t quite trust Sam, causing a strain on their marriage.  The two frequently argue, and Leigh is not afraid to speak her mind to Sam.

 

Overall, Scorsese’s adaptation was successful, because it modernized the story for a new generation. Characters in Cape Fear (1991) are dynamic unlike the other versions.  The audience gets to see all sides of the characters, which the other adaptations failed at doing.