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Yet again, Ryan Murphy equals even more genius in the realm of American Horror Story Freak Show with the excellent use of anachronistic music and in Edward Mordrake Part 1, Gods and Monsters certainly fits the bill. Murphy’s creation in season four still packs a powerful punch and has enough sly humor to satisfy the most jaded viewer. At the beginning of episode three in the American Morbidity Museum the tour guide tells Dr. Mansfield and his assistant Ms. Rothschild (Denis O’Hare and Emma Roberts) that Ed Sullivan is killing their business. To be exact she explains that in 1952 television is not just hurting Hollywood, but real life exhibits as well.
The reality of the time was, as mentioned by the guide, live shows like the one Elsa Mars runs in American Horror Story were going out of business rapidly. Although to blame the demise of these cruel curiosities on the advent of television, may be a bit too simplistic. Certainly advances in health, medical practices and so on had a role to play in there being fewer “oddities” being born in the world. While bearded ladies could still be seen as late as the 1980’s, as evidenced in an Arkansas department store by this author, very few “freaks” have found their way to “fame and fortune” in modern society for a multitude of reasons, not least of which is better education of the public.
Heading back to the idea of Murphy’s use of music in American Horror Story Freak Show equalling genius, the use of Lana Del Rey’s Gods and Monsters shows just how much that statement is true. In an earlier article by the Guardian Liberty Voice, it was pointed out that the show’s creator was not being blazingly original by using songs that are clearly anachronisms for the time period. It was also mentioned that writer/director Baz Luhrmann built an entire film around this concept with his 2001 musical extravaganza Moulin Rouge.
Obviously Murphy was influenced by Luhrmann and possibly as an act of homage used the song co-written, and recorded, by Lana Del Rey who did some work for the Moulin Rouge director on his 2013 film The Great Gatsby by providing a song for the movie. Ryan’s slotting this particular choice of music in this episode fits in so many ways up to and including this apparent nod to the Oscar Winning Luhrmann.
Looking at the lyrics being sung by Elsa Mars, that long time hustler who is still reaching wildly for that brass ring of stardom, the song is particularly apt. “Doing anything I needed” and “the medicine I need, fame, liquor, love…” Both these lines, as well as others in the song, really seem to point out just what dues the performer has paid on her journey. In American Horror Story: Freak Show, Mars may be the one who works to keep the performers together, but her own dreams are what really matter to the Marlene Dietrich wannabe.
Of course, American Horror Story Freak Show episode three has a PG version of the original song, no reference to “Jim Morrison headed towards a “F**ked up holiday” here. In fact none of the “F” words are used in this televised version, but the song loses none of its impact for all that censoring. Examining the lyrics further, the “F***ed up holiday” mentioned is obviously Halloween, the setting of this week’s show and “innocence lost” could apply to Jimmy Darling, Elsa herself, or even Dandy (who is a Twisty the Clown in training). The inclusion of this song is Ryan Murphy equalling genius with his mix of the present in the past to highlight the show’s themes. Viewers of the series should raise their glasses high and join in the chant, “One of us, One of us…”
By Michael Smith