Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Not-So-Great Showman

Going to see a movie is usually a standard part of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I had a wonderful time with family in Columbus at Christmas, but the film that we saw this year was not the highlight of the holiday.

We decided upon "The Greatest Showman", a musical based on the life of P.T. Barnum.  I was fine with that choice.  I like historical movies, I like the lead actor Hugh Jackman, and I generally like musicals.  The others in our group enjoyed the film, but I thought it was a dud.

(image from the web)

The movie was not popular with many of the critics.  For one thing they lambasted the movie for having only a tenuous relationship with historical fact.  Barnum is treated here as a benevolent empresario when in fact he was a conman, a huckster.  The main theme of the movie is that he treated the members of his "freak show"  with the dignity and respect that they deserved as human beings.  The film never mentions Barnum's first success in "show business".  During the pre-Civil War era, he purchased an elderly, blind, paralyzed slave woman. Barnum put her display ten to twelve hours each day, and claimed that she was the 161 year old nursemaid of George Washington.  He even exploited her in death when he sold tickets to a public autopsy of her body.  Nice guy! 

One of the most famous members of Barnum's show, "General Tom Thumb", the world's smallest man, is portrayed in the movie as a young adult who willingly joins the circus.  In fact "Tom Thumb" was a five year old child and was put on stage drinking wine and smoking cigars for the amusement of the audience.

Barnum sought to gain respectability by bringing the acclaimed Swedish soprano, Jenny Lind, to the United States.  The descendants of Miss Lind should sue the producers of this film for the way she is depicted.  She is shown as a temptress who quits the tour when she is unable to seduce the happily married Barnum.  In fact, she was a devout and shy woman who donated most of her earnings to the establishment of free, public schools in Sweden.  She quit the tour because she was uncomfortable with Barnum's marketing techniques. 

Besides the mess that the move makes of history, there is the music.  I didn't realize that the music was written by the pair that wrote last year's "Blah Blah Land"... I mean, "La La Land"... a ho-hum show filled with thoroughly forgettable songs.  "The Greatest Showman" has a number of big, razzmatazz song and dance numbers... but the music is still completely forgettable.  

One thing which the critics did not mention but which I found quite jarring is the fact that the songs for this story, which takes place in the 19th century, are all written in a contemporary pop music style.  The music that the songwriters put in the mouth of the operatic Jenny Lind is quite laughable.

I just hope that next year when the Oscars are awarded this lame movie doesn't steal the best song and best score awards from the far superior "Coco".  


  1. Hugh Jackman is a born song-and-dance man. I'm disappointed, but not really surprised, to hear that it was a historically-inaccurate dud. Of course very few biopics - or musical biopics - are accurate. Even Lawrence of Arabia played loose with some of the facts! Interestingly enough, from what I've read I would say that "Frida" may take the cake as the most accurate.

    And speaking of movies set in Mexico, I wouldn't worry; I'm fairly certain that "Remember Me" has the Best Song Oscar en la bolsa.

    1. I hope that you are right about "Remember Me"... and that "Coco" also gets the Oscar for best score. Beyond the songs, the instrumental music in the movie is beautiful.