“The Greatest Showman”, directed by Michael Gracey with story by Jenny Bicks, is a musical that conveys the founding of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, which ended operations in May 2017.
The central issue of the film is how an entrepreneur leveraged some people with disabilities and how the public reacted. The film seems to take some liberty with dates and years, as it appears to start during the Depression. In an early scene , P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is laid off from a shipping company that goes under. He comes up with the idea of opening a museum with curiosities, including “freaks”.
At first, the idea seems offensive (and to make fun of intersexual people); but when the museum works and the performers seem emotionally bonded to the company, it seems uplifting. The “bearded lady” has one of the best songs, “This is me”. That’s what Chelsea Manning says, and I started wondering if the idea of a documentary about her would sell.
Barnum hires Philip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron, who brings back a little of Troy Bolton (“High School Musical”) but has the same kind of charisma and drive as Ruben in the previous film on this blog. At one point Barnum refers to him as his “Apprentice”, an obvious reference to Donald Trump.
The screenplay needs a crisis, and that comes from some of the public, that sees putting “defective people” as visible in public as immoral. One man sets the museum on fire in a riot, and Barnum loses everything, as the banks won’t continue to fund something that is a target of hostility. Carlyle is also injured with smoke inhalation and maybe burns.
But libertarianism comes to the rescue, as the performers become part owners of what emerges, the circus that we knew for so many years. Carlyle recovers fully.
There’s a subplot with Barnum’s wife (Michelle Williams) getting lightly jealous.
The music is by John Debney, with several lyricists. The songs give us a continuously happy lilt, which reminds me of the scores of some mashups of gay stuff on YouTube. The score also has some classical music, especially the overture to Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte”.
I can remember visiting a county fair in Vernon TX in 1984 with a “freak show”, and the performer would confront the visitors about their motives for looking.
Wiki, Barnum and Bailey Poster, 1899
I do recall seeing “The Greatest Show on Earth” as a boy. One particularly interesting circus from my perspective is Cirque du Soleil (which I saw in Minneapolis in 2000).
The theater (One Loudoun Alamo) showed a short “Barnum” from 1943 (partly black and white) before the show. The short showed some rather challenging tricks with tigers.
|Name:||“The Greatest Showman“|
|Director, writer:||Michael Gracey|
|When and how viewed:||Alamo Loudoun, morning show, just for me!|
|Length:||105 (shorter than a typical musical)|
|Companies:||20th Century Fox, TSG|
(Posted: Friday, January 19, 2018 at 7:45 PM EST)