Celebrity Interview: Leslie Zemeckis Talks Bound by Flesh, Freaks and Salacious Tidbits

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Director Leslie Zemeckis has struck a vein with "Bound by Flesh" a follow up to "Behind the Burly Q," as she maintains the spotlight on early 20th century recreational pastimes, highlighting and creating an untold history of the turn of the century leisure entertainment and its stars.

 

Complimenting her first documentary, Zemeckis brings a dedication to the topic. She is informed, knowledgeable and her surprising interest in American history, of carnival and the Big Top, is obvious in the end results.

"Bound by Flesh," 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.

Having the opportunity to interview Ms. Zemeckis for "Bound by Flesh" below is an excerpt from our phone conversation.

Janet Walker: Hi Leslie. How are you?

Leslie Zemeckis: I'm good. How are you?

JW: Doing well, thanks. Congratulations on the film.

LZ:  Thank you.

JW: You're welcome. "Bound by Flesh" is really an interesting film so tell me a little bit about how you came across this topic and how it evolved into a documentary.

LZ: Oh. I first discovered them when I as shooting and researching my first documentary, "Behind the Burly Q," Siamese twins in burlesque and then I bought Dean Jenson's biography which was so interesting and when I was editing the Burly Q, I kept thinking about them and I ran across a women whose father had worked with them and when I re-read the book, and realized they had the same birthday as me, so I thought, I going to do this, this is crazy and so that is kind of how it evolved.

JW: So you handled all the interviews, is that correct?

LZ: Yes, absolutely and the research.

JW: So describe the writing process and some of the challenges that you had.

LZ: Actually, I thought I would have more challenges. I didn't want to make this historical and get a bunch of historians sitting around talking about the Hilton sisters I wanted to have people who knew them and I was lucky enough to find their goddaughter which was a big find and some people who were in the town on North Carolina, Charlotte when they died an so had remembered seeing them as groceries at the park and shop and I was really surprised at the how many of people I did find. They weren't reluctant t they wanted to make sure I treated the Hilton sisters story fairly I think they were a little worried that I wouldn't but when they saw Burly Q, the goddaughter said "oh, okay. I'll talk to you' as she doesn't normally talk to people about it.

Um . .  then it was just a matter of researching  I went to news reel achieves and I went through little 3 X 5 cards that had never been you know, stacks, they didn't have the Hilton Sisters name on it but they had one of the men who they married. I found gold with that that's kind of why which is why I do all the research myself I familiar with all the names and can cross check things on a wider way, I can check theaters and I can dig wherever I need to go to find something. I wanted to get as much footage on them as I could. I was thrilled at what I found. I'm sure, I know there was a lot more in its day I don't know if it is out there somewhere these achieves are very not very well maintained. They just don't have the money to maintain it and who's looking for Siamese twins? 

JW: So did you find your original vision narrow? Or did you have any material added? Or did it take on a life of its own as you began to work on the film?

LZ: When I go into it I'm really well researched. I know the questions I'm going to ask I wasn't surprised by anything that anybody told me and I was lucky the people I interviewed were very charismatic, most of them, who needed to tell the major part of the story, I knew which part of the story I had to tell.  Um. I wasn't surprised, surprised in the sense that some of the places where still there going by the house where they died, really met something to me to stand at their grave to go to the Park and Shop that is still there. SO to be able to go to those places really adds to the film instead of just showing a picture of it actually having been there.

JW: So how long from concept to completion?

LZ: A year.

JW: One year from the time you started, the idea come to you, from that time, one year?

LZ: from the idea, it was more like a year to a year and a half. But when I said I was going to do this, hire people, blah, blah blah, it was a year from shooting until when we premiered at the Chicago Film Festival.

JW:  Okay.

LZ: It was a much quicker process than Burly Q, but a much narrow focus on the twins and their story. I also wanted to put it in the context of its time and what circus was, of what carnival was, what sideshow was because we don't have it anymore, even vaudeville, what it meant.

JW:  You know that's interesting. I have a question about that. Specifically, I wasn't sure I would be able to ask. Do you think that there is any possibility of re-visiting that topic on a larger scope as we don't have vaudeville anymore and we don't have that early 20th century obviously the genre of the recreational pastimes that includes the freaks, and the freak shows and all of that. And do think there is a possibility that you are building some sort of vein between in that genre and do you see yourself re-visiting that?

LZ:  Absolutely. It is a part of our early American culture and entertainment history is fascinating to me, like burlesque, that is no longer and people assume, you say circus and everybody doesn't think twice about it people say yea there is a big top and animals, but it was really  and what struck me, when the circus pulled up into a small town, there is no television, no theater no zoo that was the only way to see a dark skinned person, to see a tiger and I think we've forget that because things are so accessible, and the circus can have 20,000 people under the tent, and how grand this form of entertainment.

My next documentary might go further into the circus world, because there were a lot of interesting stories that we've lost. It just can't be like Burlesque and so much of our entertainment is informed by it we have reality shows and to me that's like the sideshow, you get to sit in your house you get to watch these quote unquote freaks.

JW: Now I have a film question, I don't want to sound like I am nitpicking, why did you chose to use the title fonts that seem to blast the film beginnings?

LZ:  I wanted to give it a "B" picture feel. Partly because of they did their tape from kind of what they are known for, this terrible film, and you look at their lives and it is in headlines, "Held Captive" "Siamese Twins Did They Find Love?" And to show that in a very obvious circus way and let the film dig underneath it's not about that kind of thing, but this is what they lived in. When I talk about them I call them freaks, I call them Siamese twins because that would have been the nicest thing they would have heard. Instead of trying to cover it, yes they lived these B picture headlines, "Tried to get married;  Couldn't get married" and yet really show there were people underneath it. Very human so it is really a love story, I don't want to publicize it that way. It is a love story between two sisters.

JW: Do you have a memorable moment over the course of making the film?

LZ: I think actually, going to their house where they died. The neighborhood seems possibly to be a little dodgy now. It really hit home to me that this is where it was with them lying there one dead and the other dying for maybe four days.

"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," is playing in select cities and on VOD. Check your local listings.

*Image, featuring Zemeckis and her team, along with cardboard image of Daisy and Violet Hilton, premiering at the AFI Film Festival, used from press images found on the "Bound By Flesh" website.

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