Friday, January 5, 2018

The Greatest Showman is a movie that I think will give you joy if you just allow it to hoodwink you into the musical story of P.T. Barnum.

For me, the surprising movie hit of December that seemed to come out of nowhere was The Greatest Showman. If you haven't seen it, the movie is remarkable on several levels, and for me and my friends that went with me (twice in fact) it's one of those "feel good" shows that just leaves you in a kind of wonder as you leave the theater. You can't help but want to talk about it, and if you happen to have a good sound system in your car, download the soundtrack to listen to on the drive home (I love you Spotify).

Reflecting on the whole experience, I suppose it is an apt tribute to the man that was P.T. Barnum. I know nothing of Barnum's actual life, except for a few quotes that are so famous that practically everyone has heard of them. "A Sucker's born every minute." That's one that I can think of right off the top of my head, and it wasn't in the film. However true or not true this telling of the circus showman is, I think its spirit was on point to what most of us feel about Barnum: that this rags to riches story is ultimately about what a guy can do who has legendary amounts of charisma and a way of seeing strangeness in a different light.

I recently became recaptured by the allure of the circus and carnival, because I picked up a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes written by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury's language is incredible as he describes two main characters in the book and sets the stage for events to come:

"So the salesman jangled and clanged his huge leather kit in which oversized puzzles of ironmongery lay unseen but which his tongue conjured from door to door until he came at last to a lawn which was cut all wrong.
     No not the grass. The salesman lifted his gaze. But two boys, far up the gentle slope, lying on the grass. Of a like size and general shape, the boys sat carving twig whistles, talking of olden or future times, content with having left their fingerprints on every movable object in Green Town during summer past and their footprints on every open path between here and the lake and there and the river since school began."

Just read the above passage and you can't help but get sucked into the story. What does the salesman with all that ironmongery want with the boys? Where does he come from? What's his business in Green Town? And there's a bit of foreboding there too with the placement of the word "wrong."

P.T. Barnum says something in the movie that made me think of this passage in particular. While trying to secure a loan to start up his "museum of oddities" he tells the loan officer that people are fascinated with the macabre...with things that are "wrong." We tend to stare at them, and he's absolutely right. We still do. Think of the traffic that builds up on the interstate when someone gets into a fender bender...all the gapers and gawkers staring out the window to see if they can spot a dead body.

And ultimately, the salesman in Bradbury's iconic story was probably channeled from P.T. Barnum, or at least what we have all come to know of him as a kind of collective conscience. In one poignant scene talking to a woman with an incredible voice, Hugh Jackman says (as P.T. Barnum), "People come to my shows to get hoodwinked, but just once I'd like to offer them something real." In my opinion, that's what the movie does best. With songs that are definitely not from the era (they would feel perfect on stage at The Voice) and written/put together by the creative geniuses behind La La Land, I think that if you allow it, the movie is capable of hoodwinking anyone into believing that a musical set to modern pop songs is indeed the perfect medium to explore a showman's life. This is from elephants to trapeze artists and to the persecuted freaks who get into a fight with bigots that ends up being so awful, it ends up burning down the building in which they perform. I think this is at the root of the tremendous split on Rotten Tomatoes, which has the critic score for this film as low, yet the audience satisfaction score is high. It is the opposite of what you saw with The Last Jedi, and quite frankly, I enjoyed The Greatest Showman much much more. The Greatest Showman entertained me, whereas The Last Jedi left me feeling depressed.

The Greatest Showman is a movie that I think will give you joy if you just allow it to hoodwink you. And I think you should do just that and go and see it in theaters now. That is all :).

4 comments:

  1. If only it weren't a musical, I probably would. Now, I like musicals - on the stage. In films, not so much.
    Considering that circus shut down permanently this year, the movie's timing is perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It seems like a lot of whitewashing to me. He exploited people and innocent animals for profit. But then I've never really liked the circus.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm planning on seeing this eventually. I went through a PT Barnum phase in high school. We had to do a biographical report in English, I think, and I picked him. Fascinating character.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I wasn't planning on seeing the movie but you've convinced me I should. I've seen a few too many flicks that critics love but audiences don't, and for me word of mouth is the most reliable factor. BTW, that's what turned the first Harry Potter book into a bestseller -- literally word of mouth on the playground.

    ReplyDelete