Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Leslie Zemeckis
I hate reviewing documentaries. Simply because these are complete different approaches to filmmaking and telling a factual story. It takes a really interesting topic for me to cover a documentary on this website and that’s exactly why I wanted to watch/review BOUND BY FLESH. This true story about a pair of conjoined twins couldn’t be released onto DVD at a more appropriate time, given the awesome AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW breaking records on FX. There’s always been a fascination with the unusual and strange since the dawn of time. It still continues today. Go look up Youtube videos on deformed people or odd medical problems and you’ll be there for hours. Not much has changed, but things certainly weren’t as civilized as they are today when Daisy and Violet Hilton were performing on stage. These twins were being exploited by cruel people and lived a rather depressing life. There’s no shortage of things to talk about in a review for BOUND BY FLESH. In the interest of keeping things as emotionally engaging for the viewer as possible, I’ll just be glancing over the basics. Suffice to say, this is a documentary I’m recommending to everyone.
BOUND BY FLESH follows the lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton from their birth until their eventual bittersweet last days. These sisters went through pain, tribulation, abuse, but loved entertaining the public. They knew how to put on a show for people and formed as close a sisterly bond as could ever be. However, a shady side of show business was introduced into the lives of these sisters early on. Director Leslie Zemeckis goes through painstaking details to showing just how horrible their childhood was and how every major event in their lives eventually unfolded. These include their shock to receiving freedom after getting out of the house in their early-20’s, starring in two films, going through handfuls of husbands, and eventually winding up as far from show business as one could imagine. This film asks the question of what happened to “freaks” after freak show performing days were over. We see the years pass for Daisy and Violet. Not all of it’s pretty and there’s an inherent bittersweet emotional layer to their tale, as well as some sarcastic bits of humor that the sisters might have appreciated.
The structure of BOUND BY FLESH is pretty basic. It’s made of talking heads (interviews with friends of the twins, experts who studied their lives, and even a former freak show manager) and takes time to put each event into perspective. It’s not as if we’re being fed this story at a rapid fire pace all at once. Instead, each detail is given its own context (all of which is downright fascinating). The editing and clips used are professional enough, but director Leslie Zemeckis doesn’t flare things up too much. This was a wise move because it allows the story to do the talking as it should in this case. Everything you’d possibly want to know about the Hilton sisters is here, even if you didn’t know about them before watching this documentary. This is an incredible documentary that tackles a good topic that hasn’t really been shown in this light before.
Loaded with tons of interesting tidbits and an emotionally charged story, BOUND BY FLESH is one of the most original documentaries I’ve ever seen. Not only is this film tackling a hugely unconventional topic for a feature-length biography on two former celebrities (that you’ve probably never heard of before), it also features examinations of a former America and the ever-changing state of the entertainment industry. BOUND BY FLESH is one of the best and most compelling documentaries that I’ve ever seen.