I saw the strangest and most interesting movie yesterday on TCM. It was Freaks, a movie directed by Tod Browning and released in 1932. It's a fairly typical story of a man about to receive an inheritance who falls for and marries a woman out to kill him. The twist is that the man is a little person, the woman a trapeze artist, and the story takes place amongst the sideshow characters of the circus. These sideshow people have a variety of physical deformations; hence the title name.
The movie did not do well when it opened because of the presence of the sideshow people and was banned in Britain for 30 years.
I didn't want to admit that there is something unsettling about seeing some of the people in the movie... like the guy without arms or legs who lights a cigarette with his mouth, or the "pinheads" - people with microencephaly - cavorting about. It was both disturbing and compelling at the same time and so I highly recommend it.
There's a DVD out there and I think I'd like to own it. It has information about the life in the sideshow at that time. It also has three separate endings for the movie, which I'd like to see. I wish there was the "lost footage" - apparently over 30 minutes were cut after the movie was initially screened in the hopes that people would like the movie more. They didn't then... but they do now. It's a cult classic. You can also see it on Youtube, if you want.
I was thinking about the movie and sideshows and how I'd probably be offended by them, had I lived in that era. Much the same way that I'm offended by lots of reality televisions these days, like Kate plus 8 or Little People, Big World or whatever. But then it occurred to me that back in the day, there were few ways for people with physical disfigurements to make a living, so the sideshow provided that for them. And then it occurred to me that reality television is not so different than a sideshow... it's like the updated version. We all get to see the "freaks"; we only have to change the channel.