Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, August 4:
CODE OF THE FREAKS
ReelAbilities Boston 2020 (online)
ReelAbilities NY, ReelAbilities Toronto, Southern Circuit
Disability through a filmic lens.
Like THE CELLULOID CLOSET, the the 1995 documentary on LGBT representation in film, Salome Chasnoff’s project assembles disability activists, filmmakers, film historians, and actors – all from within the larger US disability community – to comment on film clips that demonstrate various aspects, tropes, and stereotypes of the representation of disability on screen. Opening and closing with Tod Browning’s 1932 horror film FREAKS, which lends it its title, Chasnoff’s doc singles out Browning’s tale as one of insiderness in contrast to the representation of disability as an outsider condition to be pitied, cured, or inspired by, as is the case in most other mainstream films. Commentators discuss pervasive stereotypes – from overcoming disability and cliched inspiration tales to the interplay of disability with race, gender, and (lack of) sexuality, as well as particularly dangerous tropes like disabled characters preferring death to disability. Referencing a mix of films – some well-known, others very obscure – the doc explores the importance of parsing these limited representations and the impact, unconscious or otherwise, that they have on the general public’s perception of the disabled community. While a worthwhile and timely project, its conventional, talking heads focused approach becomes somewhat repetitive and reductive, making it function primarily as a work of advocacy and education.