Bound By Flesh Review

Posted: June 30, 2014 in Documentary, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , ,

video-undefined-1EF7D99F00000578-155_636x358We don’t have freak shows anymore. We don’t pay a dime to go inside a carnival tent and lean over the railing to gawk at some poor bastard with a birth defect or other physical abnormality. Such unfortunate souls are not reduced to earning a living by standing on a stage while strangers file past.

We’ve evolved.

Now our twisted interests are served 24/7 by the Internet, where every image of every freak is preserved along with photos of every other forbidden thrill. The disabled are not subject to the same public humiliation, nor do they have the opportunity to profit from it.

How many will come to the documentary, Bound By Flesh, for the same reason so many thousands ducked into those tents or Google those images? After all, here’s your chance to not only see Siamese Twins, but to learn all their secrets, including (wink, wink) some sexual stuff.

Whatever the reason, the film delivers more than expected. What begins as a tale of exploitation becames a deeper musing on celebrity, dependence, family, and humanity. Bound By Flesh tells the story of Violet and Daisy Hilton, known professionally as the Hilton Sisters, conjoined twins born in Brighton, England, in 1908, to a destitute mother, who sold them to her employer. From their start as an attraction in the backroom of a pub, the girls went on to become a sensation on the vaudeville circuit, where they would dance with Bob Hope, share a stage with George Burns and Gracie Allen, and receive life advice from Harry Houdini – all the while making as much as $5000 per week.

The girls were treated terribly, exploited first by their adopted mother and then by a manipulative son-in-law, who maintained complete control over them even after they passed the age of majority. They sued for emancipation, won, and almost immediately, began a steep and sharp fall from the top. They smoked, they drank, they squandered their money. There was an unplanned pregnancy, and marriages for publicity. Vaudeville died, replaced by movies. While the girls starred in the movie Freaks, a career in cinema was not to be. They would do burlesque for a while, and then personal appearances at drive-ins, before finally winding up destitute in North Carolina, where they  found acceptance and friendship at the end of their lives.

The movie tells the story of their rise and subsequent fall in a linear fashion akin to an A&E Biography episode. The narrative approach seems rushed in the early part of the film, before director Leslie Zemeckis finds a proper rhythm about one third of the way through. The only other significant flaws in this fine documentary are certain of the images that fill the screen between interviews of those who knew the sisters or are familar with their story. The stock footage seems to be whatever was readily available, and borders on unintended comedy on a couple of occasions. Some of the pictures and video of the sisters are reused too often, giving the impression that there is insufficient material for the 90-minute run time.

Violet and Daisy were conjoined at the pelvis, but shared no major organs. The surgical technique to separate them wes developed during their lifetime, and separation was an option for them as adults. They chose to remain together – a decision that lasted until death. Strikingly attractive, reasonably talented, and reportedly charismatic, the Hilton sisters were not freaks. They were performers who were exploited and then discarded. Bound By Flesh ends up to be a cautionary tale, effectively told, that is all too familiar.

Three stars.

 

 

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