Color, 1981, 102 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Harry Rasky
Kino Lorber / Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Despite its plunge into exploitable genre fare during the height of the tax shelter era, Canada isn't exactly known as a hotbed for mondo documentaries like America (especially Faces of Death) and Italy. However, in 1981 it did take a detour into some very unusual territory with fare like the anti-porn doc Not a Love Story, borderline traumatic projects like P4W: Prison for Women and Not Another Missing Kid, and this far-ranging look at North American residents with physical abnormalities, which was largely inspired by the smash success of rival screen and stage versions of The Elephant Man. Being Different is especially unexpected since it's the handiwork of Astral Bellevue Pathé, a production company better known for Seizure, Rituals, Death Ship, Terror Train, and the three Porky's films. Needless to say, this is nothing like any of those titles at all.
Proud Canuck Christopher Plummer narrates and appears briefly on camera as your guide through the "human oddity" both born and created through twists of fate, from everyday settings to the truly unusual like sideshows and martial arts tournaments. From Sandy Allen, the world's tallest woman seen doing a show at the Guinness Museum, to the well-known Galyon Brothers (who are still with us and easily the record holders for the longest-living conjoined twins), the film tries to eschew the tongue-clucking tone of the previous decade's mondo films with a more rah-rah uplifting tone that should be familiar to anyone around in the '80s who watched fare like That's Incredible! on TV. (The upbeat pop soundtrack by Paul Zaza of Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine fame just adds to that impression.) A fair amount of time is spent early on in the American South, most notably a sideshow in Florida and a beach populated by very tall and very short people in Georgia, which segues into a fascinating tangent with Billy Barty and his organization, Little People of America. That means we get to meet Billy's painter wife and his kids in North Hollywood and see his diminutive friends having bowling and Mexican dance parties. The Venice Beach "little people" rollerskating sequence is pretty unique, too, not to mention the looks at a bearded lady, a marathon runner without feet, an unorthodox painter, and other examples of resourceful athletes and artists adapting to the most challenging circumstances.
A real cinematic curio from the highbrow Canadian documentary Harry Rasky (who snagged an Oscar nom for Homage to Chagall: The Colours of Love and also covered such subjects as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Leonard Cohen), this film was a very familiar VHS staple in the late '80s courtesy of Vestron Video and its indelible key art of Bob Melvin, which has been the standard for its releases in other media as well. Given that this film hasn't had a new telecine in decades, there isn't much to compare it to when it comes to the 2017 separate Blu-ray and DVD releases from Code Red distributed through Kino Lorber. The source print (which may very well be all that's left) has obviously gone a bit red, which doesn't make it unwatchable but basically makes this about the equivalent of watching an archival print kept in less than pristine shape. Basically, it is what it is, which applies to the DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track as well.
The main extra here is a new interview (9m18s) with one of the film's directors, Robert Kline, who chats about how a case of pink eye got him out of the mail room at MCA/Universal and led to a lengthy TV and film career. He explains how efforts to mount a remake of Tod Browning's Freaks eventually ended up turning into this film (which he doesn't really go into otherwise), with other names along the way including Orson Welles, Keir Dullea, and O.J. Simpson. The final few seconds are really bizarre, too. Extras include the film's theatrical trailer and bonus ones for The Funny Farm, Highpoint (another Canadian slice of strangeness with Plummer), Cry of a Prostitute, Almost Human, and Savage Attraction.
Reviewed on June 16, 2017.