Freak Babylon: An Illustrated History of Teratology and Freakshows

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9781840681604: Freak Babylon: An Illustrated History of Teratology and Freakshows

FREAK BABYLON is a sometimes startling, sometimes disturbing documentary of the history of one of mankind's most fascinating sciences - teratology - and its dubious cultural correlative, the Freakshow, from ancient times to the present day. The book features over 200 rare and intriguing photos of human anomalies and covers the areas of scientific research, sideshows, cinema and body modification.

By tracing the history of teratology - the classification of human anomalies - and looking at some famous case histories such as the Elephant Man and Johnny Eck, FREAK BABYLON shows how medical research and exploitation are often interlinked - and poses the question whether new sciences of cloning and genetic engineering are taking us back to the "dark days" of man-made freaks.

Bonus features include:

"The Elephant Man” by Sir Frederick Treves. Long out-of-print, this is the true account which inspired David Lynch's film of the same name.

"Dissection of a Symelian Monster” by R C Benington. A classic illustrated account of an autopsy on a real-life human anomaly, from 1891 medical journals.

An in-depth illustrated review of the controversial 1932 horror film Freaks, directed by Tod Browning.

Tod Robbins' classic short story "Spurs”, which inspired Browning's Freaks.

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

THREE Even before the great Barnum show of 1901, Paris in the 1890s had been gripped by a passion for extravagant theatre; the Grand Guignol, which opened in 1897, live beasts and, indeed, circus freaks were the vogue. At the Theatre de la Gaité or the Varieté of the time, for instance, the crowds could marvel at the naked dancing girl Bob Walter gyrating behind a mass of snarling beasts, see the deadly Spider-Woman, Mlle Fougère, or witness the most famous Siamese twins in all the world, Rosa-Josepha Blazek. Paris even had its very own "Giants' Restaurant", where visiting goliaths were exhibited while prostitutes plied their trade. At the same time, another burgeoning branch of the spectacular was about to reach fruition. Throughout the century, various experimenters had been investigating the phenomenon of the persistence of vision, developing ways to give the illusion of moving images either in the name of science, or in order to even further enhance their shows: Dr. John Ayrton Paris' Thaumatrope (1826), Joseph Plateau's Phenakistiscope and Simon Stampfer's Stroboscope (1833), William George Horner's Zoetrope (1834), Henry R. Heyl's Phasmatrope (1870), Emile Reynaud's Praxinoscope (1877) and his subsequent Pantomimes Lumineuses, Eadward Muybridge's Zoopraxiscope (1881), and finally Robert W. Paul's Theatrograph, Thomas Edison's Vitascope and Kinetoscope, Emil Skladanowsky's Bioscop, and the Lumière Brothers' Cinématographe (1895); all had their place in the development of moving pictures. It was this progression of invention which eventually gave birth to the cinematic arts in the mid-1890s. And naturally enough, the first experiments in film would often, in true sideshow fashion, centre around shocking images of the human body - executions, train wrecks, and of course clandestine pornography. It was during these formative years, at the height of the carnival craze, that a certain Georges Méliès, not content with producing mere documentary footage, was busily developing his pioneering "cinema of magic and illusion". Méliès was himself originally a magician in the music-halls and fairgrounds. In 1887, aged 26, he purchased the legendary Theatre Robert-Houdin, where he had served his sorcerer's apprenticeship. For 8 years he ran the theatre, presenting breath-taking spectacles of sensational tricker - and then he discovered the camera...

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