Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Silly Cinema: Freaks (1932)

"Before proceeding 
with the showing of the following 
a few words must be said about
 the amazing subject matter.  
In ancient times anything that 
deviated from the normal was 
considered an omen of ill luck or 
representative of evil.  Gods of
misfortune and adversity were
invariably cast in the form of
monstrosities, and deeds of injustice
and hardships have been attributed
to the many crippled and deformed 
tyrants of Europe and Asia.
abound in tales of misshapen
misfits who have altered the
world's course.  GOLIATH,
just a few, whose fame is world
The accident of abnormal birth was
considered a disgrace and mal-
formed children were placed out 
in the elements to die.  If per-
chance, one of these freaks of 
nature survived, he was always 
regarded with suspicion.  Society
shunned him because of his de-
formity, and a family so hampered
was always ashamed of the curse
put upon it.
Occasionally, one of theses unfortu-
nates was taken to court to be
jeered at or ridiculed for the 
amusement of the nobles.  Others
were left to eke out a living by
begging, stealing or starving.
For the love of beauty is a deep
seated urge which dates back to 
the beginning of civilization.  The
revulsion with which we view the
abnormal, the malformed and the
mutilated is the result of long 
conditioning by our forefathers.
The majority of freaks, themselves,
are endowed with normal thoughts
and emotions.  Their lot is truly a
heart-breaking one.
They are forced into the most
unnatural of lives.  Therefore, they
have built up among themselves
a code of ethics to protect them 
from the barbs of normal people.
Their rules are rigidly adhered to 
and the hurt of one is the hurt
of all; the joy of one is the joy
of all.  The story about to be
revealed is a story based on the
effect of this code upon their lives.
Never again will such a story be
filmed, as modern science and
teratology is rapidly eliminating
such blunders of nature from the
With humility for the many injustices
done to such people, (they have
no power to control their lot) we
present the most startling horror
story of the ABNORMAL and

-Prologue to Tod Browning's Freaks (1932)  


There is no politically correct way to discuss Tod Browning's 1932 masterpiece, Freaks.  It is the story of greed, corruption, and betrayal with a cast heavily-populated by real 1930's sideshow freaks.

Freaks is really a proto-Noir picture, filmed within the transitional period of the Hays Code that carved a path both thematically and stylistically for future, film noir classics like Nightmare Alley.  Its noir-ish tendencies are found in the theme, style, cinematography, and cast of seriously-flawed characters motivated by their own anger, avarice, and jealousy.  In a movie like this, it is tough to find anyone for which to root - except for the freaks!

Nightmare Alley (1947)

The story is about trapeze artist, Cleopatra, "Queen of the Air," who uses her feminine wiles to charm Hans, a little person, out of his inherited fortune.

"Can a full grown woman truly love a midget?"

Cleopatra & Hans
(Originally, rising M-G-M star, Myrna Loy, was tagged
for the part of Cleopatra but she refused the highly-unlikable role.)

Before viewers can start feeling too sorry for Hans, it is made known that he is engaged to fellow performer Frieda.  Unfortunately, he just cannot resist the "most beautiful big woman in the world."

Hans & Frieda
(These performers, Harry & Daisy Earles, were real-life siblings)

Meanwhile, Cleopatra, along with her strongman boyfriend, Hercules, plots a wedding for Hans and Cleo so they can kill him and make off with Hans' fortune.

Hercules & Cleo are obviously turned on by greed and murder.

Hans and Cleopatra do get married and host a wedding feast.  The open-hearted freaks are fully prepared to accept Cleopatra but, revolted by the thought of being "one of them," she reacts rather impolitely.

"One of us, one of us, gooble gobble, gooble gobble..."

Justifiably offended, and apprised of her motives, the freaks plan a future for Cleopatra far different from the one she had envisioned with Hercules.  To find out just what they have planned, you must watch Freaks!

Price Randian "The Living Torso" & Johnny Eck "Half Boy" say,
"You're either 'one of us' or you're not..."

It is easy to see the type of circus sideshow depicted in the film, and even the film itself, as exploitive and inhumane.  Considering the era (Depression) and the prevailing attitudes of society, circuses actually provided a haven for people born with disabilities, disorders, and odd appearances.  The sideshow became a means of earning both money and a new "family" in a time when families were discarding or selling off these "accidents of nature."  Fortunately, time and science have been on society's side and we seem to have gotten at least slightly more enlightened and compassionate. An interesting tidbit that I learned in researching this movie is that Elizabeth Green, "The Stork Woman," was actually a "normal" business woman (she owned several apartment buildings); she used her business savvy to capitalize on her odd appearance and joined the circus.

Billed as "The Stork Woman" and "Koo Koo the Bird Girl," Elizabeth Green
talks to Wallace Ford "Phroso the Clown" in a scene from Freaks.

"Louella Parsons says - For pure sensationalism 'Freaks' tops any picture yet produced.
It' s more fantastic and grotesque than any shocker ever written."

Without giving away too much, Browning betrays a profound love and respect for the "freaks" throughout his film.  His behind-the-scenes portrayal of life in an early-20th Century circus/side show illuminates the simple dignity with which the "freaks" lived in spite of the heretofore untold indignities they were forced to endure.  Somehow, through it all, he imbues their story with great humanity while allowing the audience to find justice through their unique code of solidarity.  It might sound trite, but in the end, we are left seeing the "normal" characters, with their cynicism, their manipulative and mean spirits, and ultimately, their sociopathic tendencies, as the real deviants - the freaks.  While the filmization  of the contemporary novel, Water for Elephants, may show the ugly machinations of a Depression-era circus, no film other than Freaks has offered such a dynamic portrait of backstage-circus life for the real stars of the show, the sideshow performers.

The cast of Freaks


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Met a Teenage Werewolf!

I had a completely different post planned for today.  But good plans are thrown out like the baby with the proverbial bath water when one meets Eddie Munster!!!  

Eddie Munster

That's right, I met the Eddie Munster, the boy werewolf from The Munsters (one of the finest programs ever produced on American television).  It sounds like a terrible joke, "What do you get when you cross Frankenstein with a vampire?"  The answer, of course, is a werewolf!  I would try and explain monster genetics to you but it gets pretty complicated.

A publicity still for The Munsters.
Butch doesn't look all that into it here, but working
on The Munsters had to be the best job in the world!

Grandpa & Eddie
I'd probably look a little suspicious too is I was forced to sit
on Al Lewis' lap.

Herman, Lily & Eddie - the perfect 60's nuclear family

Alright, alright, so Eddie was more of a pre-teen werewolf, and if you want to get uber-technical, I actually met Butch Patrick the man behind the pointy ears and extreme widow's peak.  But to me, and probably to the rest of the world, he will always be Eddie Munster.

I offer no explanation as to the expression on Mr. Tiny's face,
other than than I was trying for a scary monster...and I couldn't
see - no glasses!

Butch was especially nice and even autographed photos
for everyone.  Fred & Yvonne would have been so proud
of their little boy!

Butch is a great guy, but to me the most exciting part is that now only one rather-insignificant degree separates me from Yvonne De Carlo!  Now that's my kind of wacky tacky celebrity encounter!  Have you met anyone of wacky tacky repute?  Do you have a favorite Munster's episode?  Please share.


Mr. Tiny

Friday, January 27, 2012

PDX, PDQ: Portland in a Hurry!

Part of our recent adventure in the Pacific Northwest included an all too brief stay in Portland, Oregon.  I wonder how many people are actually native to Portland as in the last ten years, Portland has seen more than its fair share of Southern California transplants including many of my friends.  If you're up for a long ride, here is "Rose City" as viewed through wacky tacky-colored glasses.


The locals - Jason & Mindy
Wonderful tour guides and incredible friends!


Byways Cafe
From what I gather, Portland is a breakfast/brunch town; we ended up at this charming cafe that was filled with amazing, vintage road trip souvenirs and travel accoutrements.  It was very comfortable and not at all self-conscious or overly satisfied with it's traditional American cafe/diner aesthetic.

While everyone else was enjoying the heartiest of buckwheat hot cakes and the most savory of breakfast scrambles,
I had this - toast as dry as the Sahara and a bowl of fruit from which I was not allowed to eat the bananas.  This is not a commentary on the tastiness of the Byways Cafe, but rather on the bland and boring diet which I find myself.

Portland is a "foodie" town (not for me, darn it) and apparently,
no trip to Portland is complete without a visit to Voodoo Doughnut.

"The Magic is in the Hole"

They had me at glitter bricks!
wacky tacky bylaw #48:  If it can't be spray-painted gold and/or
 covered in glitter, it is probably not worth having.

 The Chocolate-Chick-o-stick & The Peanut Butter-Chocolate-Oreo donuts

We're far too refined to mention the name of this
particular donut but you can probably get the idea.

McMinnville Cream
A raised donut, filled with Bavarian cream and
topped with maple icing - and a moustache!

The eponymous Voodoo Doughnut
Raised donut filled with raspberry jelly, covered in
chocolate frosting and run through with a pretzel


The Palms Motor Hotel
Do NOT be fooled by the amazing neon!  It's not that the rooms at The Palms are worse than any other motel, but the owners are CRAZY!  They offered a particular price over the phone and then added five dollars when we actually arrived.  When they finally agreed to honor the price they quoted over the phone, and after they had run my credit card, they determined that a $5 per person, per night charge had to be assessed for a non-smoking room.  Why, you ask?  Because some people rent a non-smoking room and then smoke outside the room and then potentially the smoke might have the opportunity to waft into said non-smoking room creating in effect a non non-smoking room.
I didn't buy it either and I am still the proud owner of $5.  The monkey alone, however, was almost worth the hassle.


Speaking of amazing signs, my favorite part about Portland was the incredible signage everywhere one looked.  I hate to say it, but I think Portland outdoes even Los Angeles in its commitment to maintaining these incredible markers.  I had convinced myself that I took many more photos of cool signs, but I guess I didn't.  I'm not sure how many more photos could be included in this post anyway...you're only about halfway through!

Portland Outdoor Store
A neon cowboy on a bucking bronco!!!!

Bagdad Theater

Hung Far Low - Chop Suey & Cocktails

We drove past the Portland, Oregon sign about 100 times.
I obsessed over it until we finally pulled over and took a picture.

It looks even better at night!


I learned a new word when I was in Portland, "McMenamins."  McMenamins is a brewer that began reclaiming old buildings and turning them into multi-use spaces that include restaurants, bars, art and performance venues, movie theaters, and hotels.  The best part is that they preserve as much of the architectural interest and integrity of the structures as possible.  I think other large cities should be taking note and repurposing buildings doomed to demolition or dereliction. We visited the Kennedy Elementary School location.  Built in 1915, the school turned hotel/bar/restaurant/theater is beautiful and makes my elementary school look pretty low-budget by comparison.

Some of the original Kennedy School students

Oh, how times have changed!

The Boiler Room
The multi-level bar in the school's original boiler room.

 A never-ending fixation with light fixtures

A pint-sized drinking fountain

A hydrating giant

This is the longest that most of these people have ever spent in school.


It was only a couple of days, but the weird quotient grew exponentially as soon as we entered the city limits. 

A flying squirrel in Powell's Books

Giant kinetic sculpture in the heart of Portland
The strange part of this piece is that one must be at least
 six feet tall in order to participate.  Fortunately, Jason was
just the right height to adjust the angle of the dangle. 


Whispers of the exotic Orient

Although we didn't enter the premises, Mary's Club had a neat sign and we
were told it is one of the oldest clubs of its kind in Portland - Exotic! 

I found real exoticism is things far more tame than the the Golden Dragon and Mary's.  
I found it in..(insert drum roll)...MOSS!  
I loved that almost every available surface was covered in its fuzzy verdure.

Moss not exotic enough for you?  How about.....SNOW!
It snowed while we were there.  I had heard of snow and I had seen evidence
of snow on the ground, but until Portland, I had no proof that it actually fell
from the sky.

I guess naming this post "pretty darn quick" was rather misleading; looking through these photos might take longer than our whole stay in Portland.  I edited the best I could, but we tried to pack a heck of a lot into less than 48 hours!  I feel like we just skimmed the surface of what Portland has to offer and I can't wait to go back to visit friends both old and new - when it is not so COLD!


Mr. Tiny