Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pictures Taking Pictures - MYRA BRECKINRIDGE (1970) and the Misandric Hollywoodophile


"Myra Breckinridge was born with a scalpel and don't you ever forget it motherfuckers, as the kids all say," Raquel Welch--as post-op woman Myra-- narrates, and you feel that something is definitely being cut off--it's the 60s and the last vestige of hetero-studliness associated with the counterculture's orgy mentality. MYRA B. is generally considered one awful film but it's pretty hot as an anti-Hollywood, anti-acting school, anti-cowboy rant, something Valerie Solanis might dream up in prison after too much pruno. "My purpose in coming to Hollywood," Myra announces. "is to destroy the American male in all its forms." As long as the film focuses on this aspect, draws heavily from old film clips, and lets Raquel Welch spout pro-40s camp Hollywood doctrine, it's pretty badass. But Michael Sarne, a Brit actor, singer, and flashy gent, was given the directorial reins. A mistake, because only an American could really understand Hollywood and its twisted sexuality. The Brits are way different and Sarne's camera is almost too polite; he forgets to leer down Raquel Welch's dress, and up it; he cuts away right when a tirade is getting interesting.


But first, historical Hollywood context: in 1970, MYRA's parent company Fox also released BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. And both had film critics either as actors or writers and directors unused to big budgets. But it was a time in Hollywood where anyone outside the system could get a major studio movie made, as the older guns were clueless in the face of the psychedelic / feminist / black power / anti-Vietnam revolution generation-- and by 1970 were able to admit it. If the producers hadn't done drugs they either hired someone who had or just threw some breasts, loud music, and strobe lights on the screen and let the clock run out. Damned hippies wouldn't even notice, they reasoned. The reasoned wrong. Even stoned freaks knew a boondoggle when they smelled its flop sweat.


It all happened fast, starting around 1966: a glut of over-priced, star-studded, psychedelic imagery-and-song-filled counterculture-satirizing (and aping) bids for mainstream success, crammed with old bread line character actors, usually about an average square man (played by Bob Hope, Peter Sellers, Goerge C. Scott) leaving his average, square wife for a young free spirit hippie chick (Goldie Hawn, Joey Heatherton, Julie Christie) or some such variation. There was: CANDY (dir. Christian Marquand); BOOM! (dir. Joseph Losey); CASINO ROYALE (dir. Ken Hughes); BLUEBEARD (dir. Edward Dmytryk); SKIDOO (dir. Otto Preminger); I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOLKAS; WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? and THERE'S A GIRL IN MY SOUP (all w/ Peter Sellers); HOW TO COMMIT MARRIAGE (w/ Bob Hope), everything by Roger Vadim; PETULIA (dir. Richard Lester), and to name just a few.

We're not a big fan of 'eaters' here at Acidemic

Some of these went perhaps too far into the freedoms wrought by the psychedelic era, and grew careless with them as if they were merely the next wave of crappy symbols for sexual intercourse and perversion. The idea that LSD had created a kind of post-modern melt-down was lost on a generation for whom the notion of 'freedom' began and ended with scoring some of the hippie love they'd read about. They just masked their one-track minds in what we call 'terminal quirkiness' and made movies where men in gray flannel suits and nagging wives met Goldie Hawn at a hippie bar in the midst of their mid-life crises.

But the youth didn't want old comedians leering over their cleavage. Thrusting themselves into the modern world and making it up as they went, the youth were goal-free; it wasn't about the orgasm, man, it was about being in the moment. Hollywood reared back on its haunches like a spooked lion at that idea, lashing out at the very things the youth thought important, baring its fangs and ready to burn down the studio and laugh maniacally like Lionel Atwill or Joan Crawford rather than surrender the reins to some young turk who didn't appreciate a dirty Billy Wilder-esque punch line. Hollywood had labored too long in the system that was now under satiric attack to understand there was no way out but to feign death gracelessly. Trying to be anti-establishment they ended up only anti-youth, the way older men like me feel a mix of prurience, jealousy, and legitimate concern when we hear about 'bracelet parties' yet are convinced we're hip and tolerant.


Which brings us to MYRA, the talked-about adaptation of Gore Vidal's seminal, fluid novel. Raquel Welch came aboard early, mainly, as she puts it in the DVD commentary, because she was supposed to play both Myron and his post-op female counterpart Myra --kind of how Ed Wood played both Glen and Glenda. She considered it an acting challenge. And if the filmmakers had stuck with that idea it would have been a great film. Sulky Rex Reed was cast instead as Myron, for some unknown reason, and his air of defensive snootiness sabotages what little chance the film had.

What made MYRA a hopeful buzz generator was the sex change angle, coupled to the image of Raquel Welch as a sex change dominatrix. She had been made an international star before her breakout film ONE MILLION YEARS BC (1967) had even been released, just from the poster! She had two things going for her: a body that redefined 'smokin'' and--the less renowned one--an air of take-no-prisoners imperiousness that made her perfect for Myra.


The fatal flaw of the film is right there in the opening bit: John Carradine plays a mumbling doctor performing the gender reassignment in what is presumably a psychedelic dream sequence "You realize once we cut if off it won't grow back," Carradine says, trying to talk Myron out of it. "How about circumcision? It's cheaper."

Now, that's in itself hilarious and Carradine rocks, but if you start a story already in a dream sequence, and never really come out of it, then there's nothing ventured, no risk, no reason to care what happens through the whole rest of the film, unless it contrasts at some point with a recognizable reality. Carradine's warning that "it won't grow back" has no weight since we don't even know him AND it does apparently grow back. As soon as Farrah Fawcett hints she'd sleep with Myra if she were only a he he backs out of the whole damn movie.

This is intended to be very clever but it only reflects cinema's still-unresolved castration anxiety, an anxiety which clouds its vision, if not Welch's, not Vidal's. No way Farrah would sleep with a pisher like Rex Reed, but Myra is awesome. We want to see Farrah and Raquel hooking up, but no one wants to see Rex hooking up with anyone. It's the most irksome lesbianism cop-out in film history until Blake Edwards' SWITCH. I guarantee you, Edwards and Sarne, heterosexuality would have survived.


But I'm going to go out on an already severed limb and defend MYRA anyway, despite the bitter flaw of deciding to bring in Rex, because it's one of the few truly misandric films ever to come out of Hollywood. Misandry is of course the hatred of men, an understandable feeling for anyone who loves movie stars and hates the cigar-chomping little men--the pimps of the ephemeral--who molded their leading ladies from virgin clay into sexually assailed golems of gorgeosity-made-flesh. In the context of MYRA, misandry is the desire to punk out, or "facilitate the destruction of the last vestige or trace of the traditional man in order to realign the sexes in order to decrease the population thus increasing human happiness and preparing humanity for its next stage." So it's really only misandric by design, which how can any free-thinker not approve?


The problem is, while some of the dialogue does attain a dizzying height of cinematic savvy it also has a very short attention span. In parts it seems like Sarne checked his watch, realized the film had played long enough that it could stop and still be considered a feature, and so made a 'wrap it up' gesture and departed for rehab, leaving MRYA caught between the zipper of gender studies phenomena and just another hard place limbo. Feints at validating the lifestyles of queers, commies, nymphos, hippies, and the all-rightness of punking out of dumb "I'm straight!"-pleading studs (ala SCORE!) add up to zilch if the jab is a sucker punch-wearin'-a-wire vindication of establishment, the old 'we had a lot of fun here tonight boys and girls but remember, gender straitjackets are there for your protection!' switch and shuffle.


But what MYRA fears isn't rejection of its taboo-breaking but the future of Hollywood without censorship, because it can't break walls if there's no walls left, and its terribly afraid it has nothing else to offer. Knocking a few glory holes in the wall it then rushes to quick patch them up for the next customer. Or another metaphor: the little boy dancing on the top of the dam, screaming that its about to burst, and kicking at it with his little churchy shoe, and then whipping out his dick when no one pays attention and, when no one pays attention even then, pretending to cut it off. Rex Reed's hatred of the film is telling it that sense. In his little three minute film reviews on TV, Reed's snootiness was droll, but this is a real movie, and no snootiness stays droll longer than three minutes.


Sadly, for all that, Rex might have been right. As with so many movies with 'queer' characters in that less-enlightened era, the 'ick' factor is camped to the point of gauchery, and all that's left is Myra's knowing but bizarre love of 40s musicals. She's horrified that the dumb acting student hunk she aims to deflower never heard of the Andrews sisters, and Welch is superbly authoritarian and uber-confident explaining with just a touch of mock wistfulness that they "really did roll out that barrel... And no one ever really rolled it back." Old movie footage of giggling Richard Widmark from KISS OF DEATH and Marlene is Navy drag in SEVEN SINNERS comes like a welcome reprieve and apt commentary, as if the history of gender-bent Hollywood was looking on as a Greek chorus. When she clocks John Huston during class she explains that she's using the fighting style of Patricia Collinges in THE LITTLE FOXES. And TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (1945, below) is, she adds, a masterpiece. Myra also explains that, "The real Christ can't compare with either actor in King of Kings," and the only one now to compare oneself with is James Bond "who inevitably ends up with a blow-torch aimed at his crotch." All this is very, very welcome and taken, no doubt, straight from Vidal's lips to hers, where it
... as it says in the bible.

Tarzan, w/ Amazons
Bacchantes
Continuing the more-is-less-but-what-the-hell philosophy and upping the camp level are scenes involving the geriatric bacchant Mae West. Her sultry comic timing with double entendres such as, "Ah, the pizza man! When do you deliver?" and the ultra-subtle, "I don't care about your credits as long as your oversexed" helps them come off clever, especially when interspersed with gay-themed musical numbers ("Hard to Handle!") and vagina dentata Busby banana circles (from THE GANG'S ALL HERE). As a bonus diva, however, West's presence never really pays off. She provides the haughty Myra with an equal and they share some properly jovial and queenly laments about the states of their men, but then she fades away. Still, if you think she's an embarrassment, being so old and still stuck on vibrate, well fuck you! She's an intrinsic part of the film's value as a phallic rhinestone time tunnel ramming up Hollywood's golden age, right past the barriers set up by the angry Catholic censors, for whom West's whole schtick was once the direst threat facing America.


And then there's the main reason to see the film: the awesome Raquel Welch taking a stud's anal virginity, and it's here where Welch's dominatrix acting style really finds its ultimate expression of howling vengeance. She seems to come alive wearing, finally, a stars and stripes bikini and (unseen) strap-on. Myra explains her validation for the approaching act in an earlier scene, declaring to her class that "every American woman secretly longs to be raped." We may not agree, but you have to admire her brazen insanity-- and then, before she invades Rusty with a strap-on she consoles him by saying "Your manhood's already been taken by Clark Gable and Errol Flynn, I'm merely supplying the finishing touches." Those touches are intercut with footage of a bucking bronco-- "who's never been rode before" a cowboy actor warns--desperately trying to escape his stall, and Clark Gable leering down from his poster like a leering peeping tom. If nothing else, MYRA can provide Hollywood devotees with whole new ways of reading their favorite MGM stars' enigmatic grins.


But the picture's leering doesn't end there. As Myra starts whooping it up while Rusty bears it, old movies bear shocked witness in intercut shots of Eisensteinian montage editin and old stars from the vantage point of their old movies peer in at the current action as if through an interdimensional window. Welch's orgasm is simulated via: a damn breaking;  Jayne Mansfield; 30s dancers cavorting in a studio rain, waving umbrellas as jump ropes; Welch on a flower swing ala the opening of SCARLET EMPRESS; a roller coaster; a mushroom cloud; rich 30s socialites laughing from their swanky balcony; Laurel and Hardy covering their eyes; a ballet dancer in a split bowing forward, Welch riding a broom and wearing a witchy hat, and tinted silent footage from MACISTE IN HELL (the same footage used in Dwayne Esper's MANIAC and my own 2007 film that climaxes with a Kali-esque goddess anally assaulting a helpless hetero-bro --QUEEN OF DICKS). The cumulative effect (even if the Shirley Temple milking the cow footage was excised on her request), is a rupturing of the historical fabric of film history -- like this strap-on represents the the return of everything 40s Hollywood repressed and coded into abstraction. Best of all, Welch whoops it up with great style. The only other actor to match her for America-encapsulated yee-hawing in that era's cinema are Slim Pickens on his H-bomb in STRANGELOVE. Yeeeee-Haw!


It's a great moment but its not long after that we're burdened with sulky Rex Reed again and his eyeliner-ed Richard Benjamin mystique, sneering his way nostrilly through party scenes where actors barely notice him, either because he doesn't really exist, or because he's so busy masking his self-consciousness with an air of haughty disdain that he plum forgets to notice anything around him, including that he's making people very uncomfortable. You know, that guy who spends the evening looking at your bookshelf and not talking and you're not sure why but you wish he would leave?


And it gets worse! Once Myra has Farrah on the third base line, she cops out of the lesbian tryst: "Oh, if only you were a man!" So Myra decides to switch back to Myron. Turns out it was all a dream. Aww. Farrah Fawcett is just his nurse, and Raquel is on the cover of some gossip magazine and did he have a car accident like in the book or is he just recovering from a vasectomy?  I'm sure our flaky, second-guessing director would say he meant this cop-out as a challenge to preconceived notions of sexual hierarchy, i.e. that masturbation fantasy is somehow just as relevant as actual fornication within the fantasy of a film. In the book, apparently, Myra's sex change is never completed and after she gets in a car accident she winds up in the hospital, and that may have been the original reason for ending the film there, but any hep person knows that when you try to make it real (compared to what) you have to show some balls and stick out to your gun. We come away with a bad taste in our mouths, even though there were times in this film where the level of madness made it hum like electricity, like the best part of Russ Meyer's BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, only with intellectual gender-bent discourse instead of robust cleavage. Someday, maybe, we shall have both.

To avoid the hetero cop-out end, stop watching here and imagine they live happy ever after

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

CinemArchetype 23: The Wild Child


So often kids in movies are insufferably nice, or else no-neck monsters with no real awakened soul power, just dumb glazed-eyed obnoxiousness. The fact is, until they are socialized, most children are monsters.  Pregnant women are often kept away from the crops and gambling tables in small villages because children are considered to be demonic (bad luck) until old enough to be initiated into the tribe and thus recognized as actual people. The only equivalent we have today to those initiations is christening and that which goes beyond the symbolic, circumcision, but they guarantee nothing, and even if empathy is developed it can often be stunted, intentionally or otherwise. There are those who only care about themselves and their family, and 'God,' and every other living organism is either food or an enemy.  At the other extreme is me, crying in the meat aisle at the carnage no one else seems to see.

The list below rounds up an array of 'wild' children, the ones who either refuse to be inducted into any society which attacks them or casual drug users whose word is never believed if it conflicts with even the shadiest of parental authority's second-hand opinions. Or maybe there is no adult society to offer this induction, or the adult supervising them is her or himself an outcast (The Piano, Paper Moon).


No matter what the root of it, we secretly thrill to see amok children; we harbor lingering childhood resentments against the adults who symbolically castrated us--teachers, cops, parents, neighbors, bullies--we have a secret stash of inner savagery just waiting to come out, as evinced by the amount of young men who harbor big stashes of automatic weapons on the off chance civilization crumbles. Until then we're expected to lay down our arms and surrender to a system that, in the end, expects us to follow rules it itself doesn't follow, to be truthful even though it isn't, and would never believe us anyway, and to make no fuss or argument when our basic human rights are stripped away in the name of our own 'safety.'

But these archetypal children embody much more than balls. We exorcise and exercise our repressed inner child vicariously through them, and the result is both cautionary and exhilarating. Like our previous entry, the Outlaw Couple, we go along for the ride like nervous virgins in the back seat of some older kid's Trans Am. These children are not all vicious or violent, but all are 'free' more or less of the confines of the social order. They either openly attack, exploit, or avoid the adult world. They live out our secret wish to blow things up before guilt, empathy, and responsibility for their own actions sours up their very sense of being alive.

1. Student body of New Grenada - Over the Edge (1979)

It's important to note that OVER THE EDGE changes the usual math of the parent-kid divide by siding itself with the kids... all the way, and allowing us to exult in the little moments of true rebellion, even if they are ultimately pointless: Richie (Matt Dillon) standing on the hood of Doberman's car as he tries to haul off Claude (Tom Fergus) for a gram of hash on a pointless bust; the retribution against the Leif-y narc who sold Claude the hash in the first place; the kids locking the parents in the PTA meeting, etc. --it's all cathartic as hell, but then as the cars in the parking lot erupt in flames and the kids rage Lord of the Flies-like we start to become afraid of ourselves for the primal inner wild child joy of seeing the school--the kid equivalent of a soul-deadening prison-- destroyed in an ultimately pointless orgy. We fantasize about blowing up the school, but when we actually blow it up, we see the ugly core that drives that fantasy. We devolve along the Hawksian axis all the way out of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and find ourselves in MONKEY BUSINESS, with the drugged Cary Grant as the painted savage preparing to roast his rival. By then it's too late to save the baby in the boiling bathwater, the wild chaos of death and anarchy tails childhood idealism like a dogged detective and the reactionary rabble roll over everything like a tide, shedding the old skin of the country as they come ripping through the amber waves like a sloppy zipper. (See: Vandal in the Wind -2011)

2. Tatum O'Neal as Addie (1973) - Paper Moon (1973)
Anna Paquin as Flora - The Piano (1993)

In these two examples the 'only' child travels an alien landscape with an unhinged single parent: Flora is the translator of her weird mom's sign language and though mom has a hard time adjusting to the stark oddness of the wild swampy New Zealand plantation, and the inarticulate fumblings of her repressed husband, Flora becomes--with the help of some amateur theater fairy wings--a diminutive Ariel / Caliban of the forest, finally even bonding with the repressed father and ratting her mom out about her affair with Harvey Keitel to demonstrate her heedless ambivalence as far as consequences to her own jealousy. Like Keitel's character she takes on a Hearts of Darkness-style going native quality, but fits in with the white world too, as needed.

Con artist Addie hooks up with her dimwit father and moves through the landscape with similar ease while he struggles and flails. It's great to see her smoking in bed and listening avidly to Jack Benny on the radio (O'Neal played a similar character, a few years older / later to drunk dad Walter Matthau in our next choice...

 
3. Full team - The Bad News Bears (1976)

As a kid I was always picked last for teams at gym and recess--my scars still haven't healed. For all I suffered, the Bad News Bears would be my chosen team. It's pretty cool how many of them have the same long blonde hair, like an army of Viking rejects. A couple of ringers almost win the big game for them, but then coach Walter Matthau says fuck it and lets the bench warmers take a turn; who cares if they win? The beers that continually flow along with the curse words help keep the game in cosmic perspective. Robert Aldrich might have directed this with a little more vitriol, but in its own sloppy way, the film is just about perfect and these snarling little ragamuffins are like a slightly less violent and organized version of the Over the Edge bunch; rather than compete for the acceptance of a society that has rejected them they prefer to reject society a priori. When Tanner (Chris Barnes) says 'take that trophy and shove it up your ass!" at the end of the film, I still feel a fighting thrill. Every kid in the theater I saw this with back in 1976 let out a triumphant whoop at that line; we never forgot it. (for more - see Walter Matthau - Great 70s Dads)

 4. Harvey Stephens as Damien - The Omen (1976)

Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST never quite counts for this cinemArchetype as she is fully socialized and 'normal' prior to her possession; indeed her possession seems to be triggered in part by puberty or the onset of menstruation, which can lead to one's entering a whole new realm of archetypal force, but having been socialized even for a few weeks, a child loses their cachet in the world of the abject, of the chthonic and unassimilated wild. The demon possesses her, while here its the other way around.

Damien, on the other hand, is never assimilated, and remains an evil blank slate. We only see him when either of his parents are present, and then they're half the time rushed out of the nursery by his big black dog or servant of Satan maid. Everywhere he goes his lack of socialization causes a row. He can't even get near a church, or a baboon.

5a. Emil Minty as the Feral Kid - The Road Warrior (1982)

Though never speaking except in grunts, the Feral Kid becomes a pretty vivid character in George Miller's influential classic. Cutting off fingers and killing bikers' punked bitches with his razor boomerang, grinning uninhibitedly from the sound of a simple music box, he becomes the focus of the picture when it all boils down to him reaching across the massive hood of the truck to retrieve Max's fallen shotgun shells. In his relative benign savagery and loyalty to the enclave around the tanker (no one seems to have claimed him as theirs, so he must have just showed up) the Feral Kid shows that the wild child in and of itself is not evil. It takes an evil parent (or guardian, like in THE OMEN), or a gang, to turn them rabid. And in a wilderness where the law of the outback reigns supreme, the Feral Kids' wildness is simply--and without bitterness--what is needed to survive.

Carrie Henn as Newt - Aliens (1986)

Unlike the Feral Kid, Newt starts out (in the Extended Cut), a normal girl, part of a fortune hunter mining family sent by Burke to investigate Ripley's alleged downed craft. Next time we see her she's resorted to a Feral Kid-style savagery, though fortunately Ripley is able to pull her out of it with her patience and mother instincts. Still it shows how quickly an only recently initiated into the social order-style child can revert when separated from all other human contact and forced to stay in hiding from the creatures who killed her parents. 

 5b. Jean-Pierre Cargol as The Wild Child (1970)
 "Taking The 400 Blows to another level, François Truffaut's 1970 feature considers a child who is literally wild, with the filmmaker himself starring as an 18th-century country scientist molding his charge in civilization's image. Shot in neat black-and-white by Néstor Almendros, the historically based movie is measured out by Dr. Itard's orderly account of the experiment, even as his momentous study finds an opaque mirror in the near-mute boy, never truly knowable. Shaggy Victor (Jean-Pierre Cargol) starts off not fierce but blindly wriggly, like a penned-up puppy, before assuming more control and becoming a piece of silent cinema under the reserved scientist's direction. (His solitary learned word is emitted in an unforgettable squeak.) He's both pure—communing with rainfall, unexpectedly showing affection—and something incomplete, a tension echoed in the film's regimented path of discovery. All is fodder for Itard's journal transcriptions (a remove later tweaked for comedy in Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me). Rather than present a clichéd fall from grace, Truffaut elicits ambivalence by closely tracking the Enlightened scientist's optimism; after the fascination, our inchoate sadness seeps in." - Nicolas Rapold - Village Voice
6. Patty McCormack as Rhoda Penmark - The Bad Seed (1956)
"..How we love to hate little Rhoda. And for some of us (myself included), how we love to love her…she’s just too damn full of vicious personality. I even go so far as to nearly (I say nearly) champion her actions and wish she would invoke more harm (film wise) before her inevitable demise.

Living with her mother Christine (an understandably neurotic Nancy Kelly) and mostly absent father (William Hopper -- Hedda Hopper's son) Rhoda's life is one of privilege and attention. When kissing her father goodbye he asks “What would you give me for a basket of kisses?” Rhoda coos back: “A basket of hugs!” Landlady and supposed expert in psychology, Monica Breedlove (Evelyn Varden) dotes on Rhoda, applauding her out-moded manners and showering her with presents -- one being rhinestone movie star glasses that Rhoda, of course, loves. As she prattles on about Freud and abnormal psychology, the rather ridiculous Breedlove cannot see the freakish behavior in front of her. She's blinded by all that bright, beauteous blonde." (Kim Morgan - Sunset Gun)
7. Macaulay Culkin as Henry - The Good Son (1993)
Henry: I feel sorry for you, Mark. You just don't know how to have fun.
Mark: What?
Henry: It's because you're scared all the time. I know. I used to be scared too. But that was before I found out.
Mark: Found out what?
Henry: That once you realize that you can do anything... you're free. You can fly. Nobody can touch you... nobody. Mark... don't be afraid to fly.
Mark: You're sick...
Henry: Hey, I promise you something amazing, something you'll never forget. Where's the gratitude?
8.a. Leo Fitzpatrick and Justin Pierce as Tully and Casper - Kids (1995)

"Virgins, I love 'em!" Tully narrates, with a mouth gone to mush from endless deep tongue kissing and cunnilingus. The film follows him and his buddy Caspar over the course of a long summer day and night and they're a terrifying duo - one a half-asleep alcoholic rapist, the other HIV positive, anti-condoms smoov-tawka who's always fixin' to deflower yet another 14 year-old virgin. He'll never run out of them, because these kids are always recruiting new kids to their clique; all the parents in New York are never around so the kids raise themselves; the old teach the young how to roll blunts and boost 40s from the city's countless bodegas.

By buddy Max. I really connected to this film as we were very similar in our dynamic to Tully and Caspar. We still talk in some of Tully and Casper's comedic rhythms. Max was the driven seducer (though avoided virgins, wisely) and I was the Caspar (though feminist and with a hatred of frat boys, if you know what I mean), more concerned with getting fucked up. I often woke up at big keg party like the one in this film, and like Caspar I'd wake up wherever I passed out -- the couch, the floor, the sump pump areas -- and immediately start seeking more booze and a cigarette, and if that meant fishing half-smoked butts out of the ashtrays and finishing half-full beers, no shame in that. After seeing Kids I even did this once while singing Caspar's song:

that's a foamy 40, not milk, playa
Parents didn't like having this movie around, so producers felt obligated to contextualize it as a "wake-up call to the world." Truth is, these kids aren't evil, they've just been cut loose into the jungle like the kids in Lord of the Flies. Except here it's the city, and there's drugs, girls, AIDS, cabs, and idiots who talk trash and need a skateboard to the lid, kid. Director Larry Clark captures something that's slippier than lightning in a bottle: these kids grow and change before our very eyes; we see the way ideas and energy spread among them like fire; the way a couple of girls kissing in a pool can almost create a wilding gangbang riot; how a group of ten year-olds can turn each other onto grass and lingo and suddenly begin to grow into looking like each other, talking and sitting the same way, as if there's some Satanic group mind that sucks them in like coke through a straw. Sure it's disheartening.... it may not even be 'real' - but its awesome to see, and its never really been seen again. Except with...

 
8.b. Evan Rachel Wood and NIkki Reed in Thirteen (2003)

The merits of Kids can really only be gauged by another film in its class, and the only one besides Larry Clark's other masterpiece, Bully, is this film written by Nikki Reed, in which she co-stars as a bad influence friend on the impressionable young Even Rachel Wood. Director Catherine Hardwicke shows why she was the perfect choice to direct the first Twilight, and why that series suffered from her later absence; she gives teenage girl angst the rare combination of operatic emotion and escape velocity it deserves. Thirteen received an even more alarmed outcry from parents than Kids did; worried moms demanded someone tell them that Reed had made it all up, that she hadn't actually done any of those things in real life. That it was all a dream. Their concern said more about the modern see-no-evil approach to parenting than any genuine compassion for the kids. Absentee parents don't want their guilty conscience attacked, rather than step up their game they'd just prefer you lie to them so they can sleep at night.

What really bugged them, of course, was that Hardwicke neither demonizes nor celebrates the girls' 'bad' choices -- she merely tries to film the exhilarating feeling of going from outcast to insider in one giddy methamphetamine headlong rush; what it's like to be suffering from depression that's so bad you cut yourself just to feel something, then a few hours later you're off on an extended manic spree. If there was no giddy thrill then there would be no emotional investment at all and the film would be little more than an after-school special. But Hardwicke never judges, even as Wood proceeds to burn down every last trace of good will, rushing into sex and drugs at a dizzy-from-anorexic-hunger speed.

9. Daniel and Joshua Shalikar as Adam -
  Honey I Blew Up the Kid (1992)

This weird Disney film deals with a very interesting issue involving the pre-empathic state that we all spend the bulk of our infancy in, where the world is a candy store, and only the mom's nearness matters --all else is but a dream. If such a being is put in a position of total power, look out: they can destroy it all just because they're grumpy and need a nap. As the great Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote of the film:
" Credibility is strained by the safe bet that no one will get killed, even though the near deaths are so plentiful that the plot comes to resemble a tricked-up theme park ride. Still, the allegorical possibilities of infantile innocence run amok (particularly as a view of this country in relation to the remainder of the globe) are amusing and potent," 
And this from EW's Ty Burr:
  "Judging from the reactions of the kids in the screening theater, it's clear that they see what happens to Adam as a power trip of primal proportions: He plays when he wants, he sleeps when he wants, he goes where he wants — and if mom and dad don't like it, he puts them in his pocket and toddles on. By the time he rips the 85-foot-tall neon guitar off the facade of the Las Vegas Hard Rock Cafe and starts playing it, they're with him completely, screaming in anarchic delight."

10.  Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
Children of the Corn (series)
Suddenly Last Summer (1959)

The unease created by movies such as Who Can Kill a Child?, the Children of the Corn series, the wild-running orphans in Logan's Run and that gang that shouts "bop! bop!' on that one Star Trek episode hinges on two elements: 1) we're hard-wired to not kill children; 2) as adults we're expected to bring them around through strong leadership and mature nurturing. If we fail, it makes us look bad. Who can kill a child? Only a monster, like us. Kids are, at heart, sociopathic, until they learn empathy. If we can't teach them that empathy, what good are we?


I learned empathy while torturing Japanese beetles. They were a genuine plague in the 70s, and if not for DDT, they still would be. I used to get paid $1 for every jar of them in soapy water-we'd pull them off of trees and bushes that they would just devour otherwise. When bored, my friend and I would torture them. And I still remember seeing this poor Japanese beetle dragging itself along the driveway on its last leg, leaking black blood, I suddenly felt sick to my stomach, ashamed, sad, and confused. I stopped playing with the other kid immediately, and never hurt a beetle again, except to kill them swiftly and mercifully.  Yeesh, kids are nightmares. But there are levels of developmental empathy, that beetle moment was the turning point for me. But if you doubt lack of empathy exists, just go to your local supermarket some time and hang out in the meat section; none of those shoppers give a shit about the organic beings that were butchered; there are no sad cow faces hanging above the steaks. Kudos to stores like Whole Foods for buying only from free range sources, but the bulk of our meat still comes from places where to say the animals are tortured, overcrowded and deprived for the entirety of their lives, is putting it mildly. Out of sight, out of mind, okay - but then to judge the kids who kill animals in the neighborhood seems awfully hypocritical.


My offhand diagnosis is that empathy is a 'luxury' in brain chemistry, a sophisticated neural upgrade the mind takes when it feels it can relax and trust the people around it, to operate as a tribe rather than a single entity. Once the empathy kicks in it can never go away (except on cocaine) so the brain doesn't want to bust it out too soon if it might be a hindrance, as in war, or survival (ala Newt in Aliens). But sociopaths tend to be loners, so what you have with a gang of unsupervised kids is fascism, mass hysteria, the desperation to connect and strengthen your tribal bonds leading you to kill all outsiders without conscience lest you be branded outsider next.

The rhythm of this phenomenon is apparent in all group human interaction. I've witnessed and been caught in three different riots over the course of my life. I never could catch the insane spirit of it all - I hurried away as the opposing ranks were drawn, embarrassed. The cops and the rioters had more in common with each other than with me; it was like I was intruding on their very private meeting.


The most highbrow of the above-listed films in this list entry isn't really a horror movie, the events are mostly described by a progressively more hysterical Elizabeth Taylor; we don't see any gore. It's pretty clear just the same that these crazy kids have eaten their cruising tourist sugar daddy in a fit of mass hysteria, hunger, and anger over being sexually abused by this older millionaire.


11. The Children (1980), The Children (2008), Emily in Night of the Living Dead (1968), the No-neck monsters in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), the kids in The Brood (1979)

I love this post from Brenda Tobias about the changing attitudes towards children and the eternal power of the no-neck monsters to horrify:
Just imagine the shock of the 1950s adult (children did not attend the theatre) audience upon seeing those no-necked monsters. Those grating little characters were hauled out and scattered like confetti on a parade. There they are playing Dixie at the airstrip to greet Big Daddy (who reacts with the same horror/disgust of the audience.) There they are “performing” at Big Daddy’s birthday party to which adult friends have been invited. (Big Daddy voices our wishes and asks for an intermission.) There they are barging into bedrooms and demanding adults engage in play. And there they are repeating hateful remarks to their aunt. It’s enough to evoke a gasp. That it still does that today is remarkable. 
The Brood (1979)
Children are not sequestered today. In fact if anything the world has become theirs and adults are seen but not heard. Adults can often not be heard over the din of children in restaurants, theatres, museums and funerals. Babies and children are not so much integrated into adult lives, as adults are integrated into the lives of children’s. We’ve created retail empires for babies and children. Broadway has discovered the steady income stream of children and the white way is dotted with flying people and talking teapots. Infants and children unfamiliar with the term “indoor voices” are dining out at 7:00, 8:00 and even 9:00 PM. They don’t shy from the highest end restaurants either. A simple dress code of: No Pull-Up Pants would put an end to that; but we digress. The point is that the world has changed tremendously since Mr. Williams created those no-neck monsters. Yet they still have the power to horrify. That is partly due to the scenic background of their terrorizing. They are clearly in an adult environment. The house in which they are running rampant is stately; there is no great room, there are no toys. It is clearly adult space. (more) 
12  The Lord of the Flies (1963)

The original, the classic, written by William Golding, is based on his own WW2 experience and a report from a teacher about how allowing his students total freedom in a debate led to a violent altercation in class. Peter Brook's film adaptation uses scintillating black and white photography to create a naturalistic mythopoetic beauty wherein you could see how the ambivalent strangeness of unbridled nature acts on the boys' vivid imagination; fear of a half-dreamt demonic figure in the woods overriding Piggy and Ralph's common sense and enabling Jack's Hitler-esque rise to power. It's funny how our current situation in this country hasn't changed overmuch from this sad dichotomy - the Republicans (Jack) whipping up things to be terrified about and sounding the war drum while the Piggy/Ralph democrats try to keep things calm and rational, which alas often means boring and myth-less.
 

The main issue of course is that people gravitate to the figure they're afraid of. Fear is a high, and it makes you feel secure in your mass mind panic / hate contingent as you continually find straw dog enemies to attack - Piggy (and the wild boars on the island) all come to represent the Lord of the Flies by proxy. The trouble is, the enemies have to keep coming to keep up the facade of Jack's despotic power.

The arrival of the adults at the very end brings a presumed end to the madness and it's interesting to note the similarity of the ending with that of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. I'm sure Mel doesn't mean us to read it as the reverse of his intention - that the Spaniards are there to educate the savage Maya and protect the neighboring tribes from being wantonly sacrificed. What we know is that the Spaniards wiped out hundreds of thousand of Mayas via disease, enslavement, and religious persecution and destroyed most of their books and records. Nice going assholes! The Maya (and Aztecs) were woefully unprepared to deal with things like canons, STDs, and muskets but they could have repelled the initial landings of Spaniards easily had they not been expecting a visit from the 'white' gods and thought these were them. It's a good moral and one that repeats throughout history, never trust the voice in your head! As we huddle by the fire and wonder who we can trust, our urge to be rational and compassionate fighting the urge to blindly lash out, wondering whether to vote for Jack's conservative circle-the-wagons worldview or Ralph's let's go talk to the natives and make friends approach. It just shows you we have not progressed too far from the savage, and maybe never will.

13. The children of The Village of the Damned (1960)

"When there is an invasion of otherworldly evil it is common for the main character to have some sub-Freudian link with it, some barely tangible connection that only the weird old, cackling old woman at the bar can see. It was the boiling over sexuality of 1950’s teenagers that caused the giant insect attacks in all those old bug movies; the strange love of Melanie Daniels intruding on the domain of icy mom Jessica Tandy launches The Birds, etc. Gordon's desire for a child so late in life indirectly creates this invasion and so he cannot reconcile the reverse-Oedipal urge to kill his kid with the buried suspicion that his wishing brought the stork of Satan down upon them all. So rather than admitting he made a mistake, he wants to find some good therein. He starts arguing that the Midwich spawn are not inherently evil, but just at that pre-empathic stage of all infants; there is good to be found in them, and fun things to study and learn about the human mind.

Gordon's brother-in-law is concerned: “What if we can’t put the moral breaks on them?” This is a legitimate worry—if they know you can never spank them, why should they ever listen? And Gordon’s unwillingness to condone their extermination distinctly sets the field of science/eugenics up against humanity’s own survival. The sense of taboo that resulted in the Intuit and Mongolian children being killed at birth doesn’t exist for the civilized man, who has to wait until the children have grown so big powerful only nuclear strikes will do the trick (which becomes the fate of two other damned “civilized” villages). In this context, Gordon becomes his own bad guy, like Dr. Carrington in The Thing (1951) shouting: “You’re wiser than we are, you must understand!”  The comic book/movie series X-Men follows a similar tack, with the mutants finding refuge at a school operated by a master of mind control. It’s that misunderstood teen fantasy of letting all the freaks go live together since the adults hate them so much. Like some pint-sized biker gang, the Hitler Youth or a rock band, they “all want to dress alike,” and walk around the streets like they own the place. They are part of a new movement, the dawn of the eugenic-counterculture.  At one point Gordon even asks them; “What do you kids want?” The kids reply: “We want you to leave us alone!” This request which would later become immortalized in Pink Floyd’s The Wall, a 1982 rock film chronicling a fascistic rock star’s childhood in post-war England. And as in that film, the adults simply cannot leave their little Nazi progeny alone. When faced with a higher or different intellect than themselves, the parents must try to understand, meddle and control and failing that, destroy them rather than be made irrelevant.

  “If you didn’t suffer from emotions, you would be as strong as we are,” David says to Gordon at one point, indicating that what the adults see as their “humanity” is something the Midwich children have transcended. Or as Floyd put it “if you want to find out what’s behind these blue eyes/ you’ll have to claw you’re way through this disguise." It has long been a source of fascination with UFO theorists that if humans could access our entire DNA, we would be able to recognize and harness powers which we now think of as “alien.” Some go so far as to speculate that alien “DNA dampers” are what keep that other 90% of our minds inactive. We could be as strong as the Midwich kids if our minds weren’t mostly shut off as a result of some higher being’s neutering of our genes, which our 'humanity' is perhaps a side effect: When David’s “real” extra-dimensional father last pulled his “induce sleep and artificially inseminate” business it may have been with apes at the dawn of time. He made sure to lower the wattage of our alien chromosomes, but for this next go-round, he’s turning the dimmer switch up to “bright.” Gordon notes that the children’s’ power has no limit, any more “than there is a limit to the power of the human mind.” We are still bound by our own compassion as human viewers, and any compassion we had for these “different” kids is compromised when they start killing more and more innocent people, justifying the military response and making Gordon's compromises seem like associative guilt... . We may not like the townspeople, but these lovely, weird blonde children are the devil - and they won't let us in; they won't let us join their gang (the way we're kind of allowed into the similar units like the X-Men or the Cullen clan). So we need to destroy them. (see Acidemic #5 here)

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See also: WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (1933)