JANUARY 5, 2010
"Ed Gein: The Musical" is both an appalling idea and a great example of how free speech and free expression are supposed to work.
Making a movie musical about one of Wisconsin's most notorious serial killers sounds like a bad joke — as no doubt it was intended to be. Indeed, one of the people who attended Saturday's premiere of the show in Menasha summed it up exactly that way.
"It was great. It was hilarious. It was in very bad taste," Leigh Moore, who described herself as a serial-killer buff, told a reporter.
Gein was arrested in 1957 after police investigating the disappearance of hardware-store owner Bernice Worden found her disfigured body at his home in the Waushara County town of Plainfield. Body parts of other women were found around his house.
The gruesome real-life story has been exploited by authors and movie producers ever since. The tale is said to have inspired authors who created the characters of Norman Bates in "Psycho," Hannibal Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs" and Leatherface in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." At least two movies have been made about Gein himself.
But never before now has anyone attempted to make the story into a musical comedy. Even that is not unprecedented.
"Sweeney Todd" and "Little Shop of Horrors" are musicals built around fictional serial killers. The film and Broadway play "The Producers" is built around the staging of a musical called "Springtime for Hitler."
The idea of "The Producers" was that the musical was supposed to be bad. The other serial-killer musicals are about fictional characters. The difference here is that Gein was real and at least two women actually died at his hands — he removed numerous others from their graves.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette has received several phone calls from people who believe the movie is offensive and questioning the media for shining a spotlight on the producers. This is where the issues of free expression enter the discussion.
In a free society these filmmakers are totally within their rights to try turning a twisted idea into a money-making enterprise. They clearly found an audience for better or for worse.
Just as important, the people who are appalled by the concept are free to call it a callous, twisted idea. That's how consensus is reached — by an open airing of all perspectives.
The producers of "Ed Gein: The Musical" got what they wanted — to get people talking.
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