Bound By Flesh Review – Surprisingly Engaging

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"Bound by Flesh,"  from Mistress, Inc. and Sundance Selects re-introduces the freak show stars, Daisy and Violet Hilton, with this fascinating, intriguing and absorbing historical account of the lives, loves and career of the conjoined Siamese twins.

 

Written and directed by Leslie Zemeckis, "Bound by Flesh" is Executive Produced by, Oscar winning Director and filmmaker, Robert Zemeckis and features the voice talent of Lea Thompson, Nancy Allen, Timothy Stack and Blake Boyd.

"Bound by Flesh" weaves rare and recovered footage and expert interviews from Dean Jensen, gallery owner and author of the "The Lives and loves of Daisy and Violent Hilton," John Bramhall, actor, playwright and childhood neighbor of the twins in San Antonio, Camille Rosengren, goddaughter of the Hilton Sisters, Stephen Freese, Circus World Executive Director, and James Taylor, expert and author on all things freak show.

"Bound by Flesh" begins with Daisy with her fiancé, in a narrow frame explaining to the world, in actual footage, her desire to marry and her attempts to procure a marriage license. The frame widens and the audience sees her sister, Violet, sitting directly beside her which is when we are introduced to them as conjoined.

 Born Daisy and Violent Skinner, in 1908, to a Barmaid in Brighton, East Sussex, England the twins were considered retribution from God for their mother's premarital sin that led to the pregnancy and birth. Immediately horrified, the mother refused to care for them and a neighbor, Mary Hilton, the midwife who delivered them, and convinced Skinner to "sell" the girls to her.

Hilton, no relation to Conrad or any of his decedents, saw great opportunity in exploitation and immediately strategized on how best to capitalize on the "freak" aspect.

An historical account, with real value into early American carnival/freak shows which later evolved into "Ripley's Believe or Not," Daisy and Violet Hilton, were grossly mistreated, subjugated, demoralized and dominated, as most child talents are, and even more so, which Zemeckis doesn't shy away from presenting the actual account no matter how abnormal, unusual and peculiar.

Finding camaraderie in a collection of those born with abnormalities that made them freaks leaving little opportunity for normalcy, the twins received a well rounded conservancy education, with managers drilling them with every possible expression of talent including musical, acting, sports, and they were either naturally gifted or had some innate understanding they were doomed without the celebrity status.

Daisy and Violet learned the ropes of the circus life through the other freaks who welcomed them with genuine affection something they had never experienced.

After spending the majority of their lives in the limelight, the extremely talented starring acts of the late 1800's early 1900's worked beside a young Bob Hope, George Burns, Gracie Allen and Charlie Chaplin, transitioning from circus acts to vaudeville to silver screen, and experiencing personal lives that even without the conjoined aspect would make publicity fodder for decades.

 The sisters were still deeply abused even into middle age and the 1950's and 1960's and eventually forced into making small town appearances and as the story is told were abandoned in Charlotte, North Carolina, by a manger who stole everything.

Their final days were spent working at a local grocery store where, by all accounts, they found inner peace, led somewhat "normal lives," and were treated with dignity.

As an historian, "Bound By Flesh" builds the stepping stones through a time in American culture through the Gilded Age, into the Depression Era and beyond.

It is an in-depth, honest, and frank look at the life of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton. I was surprised at what they were able to accomplish, how they chose to live and die really, not so surprised at the exploitation, injustice and injury they suffered.

If I had any critique of the film, it would be the choice of the title fonts which, while understandably heralding a early placard freak announcement, appeared reminiscent of the demoralizing treatment the twins received during their lives as Ms. Zemeckis presented the material with care, albeit candidly, the introductory titles are more like sharp punches and don't create a seamless, fluid, transition to the content. 

"Bound by Flesh" is produced by Jackie Levine, with Sheri Hellard  and Donnalee Austen as Associate Producer, Evan Finn served as Editor, John Durham Cinematographer, Oliver Schnee composer, Voice over talent Nancy Allen, Joe Sill Executive Movie Producer,

The film has entered in numerous film festivals including the prestigious American Film Festival, and won 2013 Idyllwild Cinemafest, 2013 Louisiana International Film Festival, 2012 Hollywood Film Festival.

With unadulterated significance "Bound by Flesh" provides a rare glimpse behind the big top into the lives of the early circus and freak show stars.

"Bound by Flesh" opens June 27, 2014 in the New York City area with other dates to be announced.

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