Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Film Review: Swing Kids

Okay, last night I watched Swing Kids. I am going to give the entire plot away so Spoiler Alert. 

Guys, this is just what 1993 girls wanted to see: Christian Bale and Robert Sean Leonard and a very young Noah Wylie ( !!!) and a badly-accented Kenneth Branagh swinging the night away in 1939 Berlin. Oh 1939 Berlin, I can't think of any place in the world or history that would possible be worse than 1939 BERLIN! But, there's the beginning of a romance and a lot of showing one's 1930s undergarments while being swung into the air by an  enthusiastic male partner and pin-curls and bright red lipstick and socks and mary janes.

You see, there was a bit of a counter-culture inferencing Ye Olde Reich at the fringe of the Second World War.  Certainly Hitler was in power and certainly invasion and war were the close horizon and to this, a bunch of Count Bassie-groovin'-hepcats were spending the nights Jumpin' and Jivin' even though Swing music was outlawed.  Why, you may ask, was Swing Music outlawed?  Because Artie Shaw was Jewish and Count Bassie was black and OBVIOUSLY ( saith the party who read double-meanings into everything)their improvised melodic mumbo-jumbo was just another way to brainwash you away to having your own ideas apart from the safe, regulated German polka waltzes championed by Fuhrer Hitler. Guten Tag Hop Hop! Guten Tag Clop Clop! You get it.

Further, Swing Music accompanied a style of dress, of shenanigans, of long hair and British emblems and American speech. It may be the cat's meow ( I mean, look at Robert Sean Leonard with spats); but it was ACHTUNG DANGEROUS VERBOTEN! 

The swinginest kids in Swing Kids are besties Thomas (Bale ) and Peter ( RSL ), they hang out with their friends and listen to records, they go dancing every night, they go to school and chase girls whilst snapping and tapping their feet to music that the soundtrack plays; but, for all film credibility, must just be looping through their minds, they avoid being roped into the white-washing, aryanizing Hitler Youth movement ( think Rolf the telegraph boy in the Sound of Music)

Oh Rolf! you troublesome boy!

They bee-bop along. Christian Bale hates his rich father. Robert Sean Leonard ( his brown eyes straight from the tragedies that befell him in Dead Poet's Society) lives with his mother and little brother fully aware that his musician father was taken, tortured, interrogated for being proven to oppose Nazi forces. 

It ain't good kids. Things get more and more and more tense as trouble arises and tension mounts and some of the Original Swing Kids become little Gestapo Officers in training.  And the more things progress, the stupider Christian Bale and RSL get.

For example, they steal a radio from the bakery shop of one of the SS officer's girlfriends. Then they run with it down the street.  Christian Bale hops into a cart and Robert Sean Leonard is stuck behind and Christian Bale is all: "buddy! drop the friggin' radio!" and RSL is all: "no!" 

And, RSL gets thrown into the Hitler Youth.  Damn.  
In a moment of supreme bromance, Christian Bale enlists too so as not to leave his buddy behind.

The Hitler Youth is like an army camp of scary propaganda and it basically gives hormonal boys another chance to beat each other up : this time in the Name of the Reich.  Christian Bale and RSL and Noah Wylie (!!!) box in their tighty whities and wear lederhosen with their Nazi shorts and arm bands and slick back their hair and learn to click their boots and "heil" their way through town.

While Christian Bale is all "cool! we're the king of the castle"  RSL is le CONFLICTED!!!Because he has a heart and he begins to understand where his father was coming from.

Random Foyle's War Shot 

Remember that one time in Foyle's War when Andrew Foyle has shell-shock and you can tell he is just AACCCCTING his heart out (by the fireplace? while Sam holds his head and he wears a cableknit turtleneck?); guys, this is the same thing ... but on speed. Because, you see, RSL is actually quite a gripping actor.  He rises above the source material: the bad dialogue, the choppy editing, the overly-sentimental storyline, the loose threads ( RSL smuggling birth certificates out of books and to Jewish patrons ....say what? wrap that s**t up!, the JAMES HORNER SCORE with operatic undertones as the Hitler Youth learn to march and zieg heil! ) he rises above and beyond and displays a ridiculously competent sense of theatricality.  There is one amazing scene near the end of the film.  RSL has decided he just cannot deliver Swastika-emblazened boxes full of human ashes to widowers anymore ( obviously) and so he breaks it.  He breaks all of it.  He would rather be captured and go up in swinging flames than be part of this destructive movement so he starts his own pseudo-culture.  He strips out of his Hitler Youth uniform and adorns himself in his Swing clothes of old, he finds an underground club that breaks all the Nazi laws and he begins to dance. By himself. In a crowd.  To his own rhythm.  It breaks the Swing Culture, it breaks the Nazi Culture; it is his own moment of expressive potency; of reclaiming something in himself that he subconsciously knows will be stripped of him forever.  He wrestles and battles on the dance floor.  And if this were ANY OTHER ACTOR IN THE WORLD this scene would be laughably horrendous to watch; but it isn't, it's RSL and you believe him.  He moves and stomps and stamps with integrity. There is a fluidity to his movement and a passion-wracked fervour on his face that transcends all abounding horrors.

Christian Bale ( who has incidentally ratted out his own father for trash-talking Da Fuhrer) has so many unresolved issues that he leaps at his friend in the impending mob arrest.  They battle it the hell out: Christian Bale now conformed to Hitler Youth splendour with club and polished boots and RSL still glistening with the efforts of his solo " Dancing With Myself" routine. They are two sides of the same coin: one being the part of us that would find it easy to assimilate; the other the part we wish we could be : the bravery to stand up, to say "this is wrong!", to create a counter-culture of conscience.

Maybe don't watch the film; but watch this: 

Unfortunately, the whole thing ends realistically: meaning RSL is led off to a concentration camp.  Unfortunately, it also ends sentimentally: with his little brother standing in the rain-glazed pavement ( how is he not run over by that car?!) shouting Swing Heil! Swing Heil! 

....and you roll your eyes and turn it off and think: Well, RSL, I don't think that plot was worthy of your one-man show; but I'd like to thank everyone else for showing up and providing you a background canvas.  I don't really recommend this film because it wasn't that exceptional; but whatever.

p.s.Remember when they killed RSL off in House ? Yah. People should stop doing that.


Kailana said...

I actually kind of liked this movie...

Rachel said...

if i had seen it when i was younger, i would have felt the same way. i think a lot of it has to do with my age. if i had seen it at 14, i would've become a swing kid myself.

Unknown said...

I haven't seen this movie in AGES. AGES! Oh those whacky early '90s... ;)

Gina said...

I've never seen it, but dang, now I kind of want to. :-) Your descriptions are JUST THAT POWERFUL.