I fell in love with a movie which seemed to me to be about the archetypical man and woman. It was visually interesting, but it was a western, and worse, a “spaghetti western.” I also fell in love with the score.
For a long, long time, I apologized when I told people my favorite movie was “Once Upon a Time in the West.” I apologized because I was raised in a household of “intellectuals” almost all of whom, along with my friends didn’t “get” what I saw in the movie.
Then one day about 15 years ago or so, the DVD was for sale at a video store and of course, I had to buy it. The extras were all these other, famous, well-known directors talking about how brilliant “Once Upon a Time in the West” was. And I decided that I didn’t need to apologize any more! My view of the movie was shared by all these people, and it ends up that Sergio Leone had deliberately used bits from other classic westerns, to make it as much an archetypical western as possible.
Why am I telling this story? Because of “The Greatest Showman.” Okay, yes, there are places it falls apart — yes there are plot holes. It is visually stunning, the acting is good, the costumes, sets, etc. are splendid and the music is superb.
So Barnum exploited people? Yes, he did. So did the people who built the railroads, started the automotive industries, the steel industries, etc. We almost all live on land which was stolen from Indians. Going to pack up and move your family back to wherever?
Our values have changed, a great deal. Judging anyone from the past by your current values could be problematic.
Isn’t it also true that all of us at one point couldn’t eat with a fork, use a bathroom or talk? Why should anyone expect us to only take them as they are right now, but judge a movie or other artform both within its historical context AND by current standards?
If you only want to judge something out context, would you allow yourself to be judged the same way? Before you were literate? Still needed diapers, etc.?
Demeaning the movie because Barnum exploited rather than celebrated the people he hired is silly. I’m not saying Barnum was right. I’m not saying he was moral. I’m simply saying he was a person within his culture, like you and me.
I don’t expect to be able to judge his reality from my perspective and find him laudable. He may have elevated the oddities by happenstance, but he did. He gave them jobs, and a family of sorts.
And I won’t apologize for liking “The Greatest Showman.” I don’t know that I care if it’s “great art” or not. Like “Once Upon a Time in the West,” I find it interesting to watch, visually stunning in places, and I love the music.