April 2019 news

April 2019 gwern.net newsletter with links on AI, biology, SIGBOVIK, Dresden Codak; 1 book review, 3 movie reviews.
27 March 201901 Jul 2020 finished certainty: log importance: 0

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  • (1932):

    I was curious where the “one of us, one of us” chant comes from, and it’s this cult film. Freaks, as the name suggests, does in fact possess a cast of some of the finest freaks available—‘circus freaks’, to be specific, the bodily deformed, such as Siamese twins, in a traveling freak show. The main plot, a circus performer seducing a midget to kill him for his inheritance, is slow & clunky, and the real fascination of Freaks lies in the documentary of the freaks.

    For example, Freaks inspired the (lousy, IMO), comics (the microcephalics really do look like that, incidentally). I was particularly impressed by one long slow sequence of a limbless black man swaddled up as a mummy with a cigar in his mouth who opens a matchbox with his mouth, takes out a match, lights it, puts it down, lights his cigar, blows out the match, and enjoys his cigar while skeptically regarding another freak who has been boasting about their talents. Aside from the ‘slice of life’ scenes, the final confrontation is downright unsettling horror. Some scenes are simultaneously intimidating & hysterical: having been, caught in the act of trying to poison her midget husband, the villainess refuses to hand the bottle of poison over. The other midget, in his little flat cap, flicks out a switch blade, licks it, and starts cutting some fruit; the legless guy, who wears just the top half of a tuxedo, pulls out a Luger pistol and admires it; and the final midget continues playing a sinister tune on a flute.

    It is deeply unfortunate that a completely superfluous ending was tacked on & so much of the movie was apparently destroyed by the studio in editing, and that the reception to it was so hostile that it ended the director’s career & the movie was banned in places; it seems that many viewers completely failed to see that Freaks was all about humanizing the freaks by showing how they live their lives and are not all solely helpless victims but a close-knit tribe who can defend themselves and even take revenge, should that be necessary. As Rotten Tomatoes says: “Time has been kind to this horror legend: Freaks manages to frighten, shock, and even touch viewers in ways that contemporary viewers missed.” Indeed.

  • (2014; mockumentary of contemporary vampires in the slacker vein, What We Do is better than it sounds because of a surprisingly thoughtful depiction of the dullness and vexations of such a life.)

  • (1986; firmly in the “so bad it’s good” cluster, this is an intensely ’80s-ish martial arts melodrama, complete with a frame story which is entirely forgotten by the ending, which avoids insufferability by being low-key subversive humor where bumbling protagonist Kurt Russell is really the sidekick to his Asian partner who does most of the work)