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ASTOUNDING! Freaks, Shrieks & Cirquantique

  • 2016
  • 110 mins
  • 35mm
  • English / French
Hosted by Philippe Spurrell (C/FS) and Cirqantique

In FREAKS (1932, U.S., 64 min., French subtitles), a beautiful trapeze artist, Cleopatra, takes a mercenary interest in sideshow midget Hans, who is due for a large inheritance but is engaged to an equally petite woman. Lovestruck, Hans dumps his fiancée to marry Cleopatra, who carries on an affair with strongman Hercules. At their wedding party, a drunken Cleopatra tells the sideshow folks just what she thinks of them: ‘‘Freaks! You filth make me wanna puke!’’ Hurt and offended, the endearing “freaks” begin conspiring to make her truly ‘‘one of us, one of us, one of us…’’

Tod Browning is best known for DRACULA (1931) and silent films UNHOLY THREE and the long-lost LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, both starring legendary Lon Chaney Sr. However, nothing he has ever directed even comes close to the originality, audacity and sensitivity of FREAKS. This highly unusual work asks, which is more grotesque — a deformed body or a deformed soul? Do not expect a low-budget exploitation quickie, as the studio spared no expense to create a sumptuous picture of Browning’s vision of society’s ultimate rejects. Looking great on the big screen, it is made all the more thrilling by the projection of a beautiful 35mm film print, the way audiences viewed it back in 1932.

Preceding the feature is a very rare 16mm short that was found high atop a twisted shelf in a dark corner of the Film Society archives. YOUR DEATH MAY BE TONIGHT (1952, France, 20 min.) is an amazing documentary on circus daredevil acts. But wait, there’s more! On stage, you will see an astounding live circus performance by Co-op Cirquantique ( that will have you gasping in awe. So… step right up, ladies and gentlemen, to the greatest show unearthed!

— Philippe Spurrell