From the Warm, Comforting Apartment of Witney Seibold: Again, I’d like to extend a thank you to Christy Lemire, the film critic for the Associated Press, the co-host of What The Flick?!, and, most importantly, our special guest on the last episode of The B-Movies Podcast. Be sure to listen, ’cause it’s cool, and listening will actually make you smarter. It’s been scientifically proven, so don’t you dare ask me any questions on the matter. Also, if you don’t listen, Christy Lemire will be disappointed in you, and that’s not a fate I would wish on my worst enemies.
On the show, Ms. Lemire and I reviewed the latest Harmony Korine nightmare Spring Breakers, with William “Bibbs” Bibbiani giving color commentary. Spring Breakers, as you have probably heard, is the titillating bikini film with erstwhile Disney princesses Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez prancing around half-naked and committing increasingly horrible crimes. The film is being sold as a fun, sexy jiggle flick, although anyone who knows Harmony Korine will know that it’s more likely to be a horrifying peek into the deepest criminal impulses of basura blanca America. And while the film is perhaps more notable for is nightmarish phantasmagorical elements, it can also be seen as a straight-up Juvenile Delinquent film, the latest in a long tradition of youth-gone-wild movies that started in the 1950s.
Juvenile Delinquent films, or JD films, are almost always entertaining on some level. Even when they don’t succeed as stirring crime dramas or character studies, their earnestness and transparent topicality (“Ripped from the headlines! Stories of today’s violent youth!”) can not only be widely campy, but also a little bit sweet in their honest need to tell a button-down conservative parable. What’s more, if the film is old enough, the evil Jds in them tend to come across as pretty dang cool. I love the look of the 1950s rockabilly punkers with greasy hair and switchblades, and I’m convinced if I had been a teenager in the 1950s, I would have listened to crappy, echoey magnapunk 45s, and hung out with the naughty crowd. Only I wouldn’t have been cool enough, so I’d have to be content with my black leather jacket.
In the spirit of Spring Breakers and the latest chapter in the long litany of JD flicks, William “Bibbs” Bibbiani and I will give you some of our favorites from the genre. I’m personally not going to include Rebel Without a Cause, because, well, that one’s a classic and, frankly, it’s just too obvious.
Bully (dir. Larry Clark, 2001)
I can never be sure if director Larry Clark (Kids, Wassup Rockers) is on the cutting edge of teen culture, revealing the crime and sexuality that is rife within certain groups of hedonistic teenagers, or if he’s just a dirty old man who will use any excuse to get young people naked and tongue-kissing (his infamous photograph “Teen Lust” can not be viewed in a work environment). Either way, I find his string of JD films to be fascinating and fleshy looks at the vacant and callow and often only mildly conscious teen criminals that populate every city in this great country of ours. His 2001 effort, Bully, is perhaps his best film. Based on a true story, Bully follows the exploits of a neighborhood jerk (Nick Stahl) and his group of immediate peers (including Brad Refro and Bijou Phillips) who eventually plan to murder him. Why do they want to murder him? ‘Cause he’s kind of a jerk. There are plenty of scenes devoted to the moral dilemma these teens find themselves in (well, to them it’s a dilemma), but more of the film is devoted to taking drugs, getting naked, and boinking like rabbits (there’s a scene early in the film where Renfro appears to have tantric sex in the back of a car). I like a lot of my films to have an element of sleaze, and no one can do exploitative – yet disturbingly moving – sleaze like Larry Clark.
Cry-Baby (dir. John Waters, 1990)
John Waters’ only legitimate musical, Cry-Baby is a loving homage to the “bad kids” of the 1950s that Waters grew up so longing to be. Johnny Depp, eschewing his then-inescapable pretty-boy image, plays Cry-Baby Walker, the leader of the local gang of “drapes,” who were the ultra-cool bane of Baltimore’s upper-class society. He romances and eventually seduces a square chick (Amy Locane) by playing his guitar and teacher her how to French kiss, only to be hauled off to prison. While there are crimes committed, and there is a whole lot of rockabilly (the soundtrack, performed largely by James Intveld, is legendary in rockabilly circles), the film is actually more loving and sweet than anything. It’s also colorful, energetic, quotable, and full of notable supporting actors, including Susan Tyrell, Iggy Pop, Ricki Lake, and Traci Lords in one of her first non adult roles.
The Doom Generation (dir. Gregg Araki, 1995)
This movie is awful. Really. It’s awful. It’s caustic and confrontational and immature. Even for the most jaded of film-goers, it will probably be difficult to get through. Director Gregg Araki is clearly trying to push your buttons, and as a result makes a crime film that is morally irresponsible and visually ugly (the nude scenes of Rose McGowan notwithstanding). A trio of young kids (McGowan, James DuVall, Jonathan Schaech) go on a crime spree for no other reason than they think it might be cool. They murder people and feel nothing, then check into hotel rooms, and toy with the notion of having a bisexual threesome. Like Cry-Baby, it has a lot of notable cameos, but I wonder why those actors agreed to star in a film so gratingly nihilistic. Why do I list it here? Because it really is one of the more notable and extreme examples of a JD film. It’s like a cautionary tale run amok, but made by a 14-year-old boy doped up on cocaine and Viagra. The film ends with a horrible act of mutilation that males will have trouble watching. The film’s last line of dialogue is “Hey, want a Dorito?” You’ll feel filthy at the end, but there is an integrity to its trashy, trashy purity of visionlessness.
Pixote (dir. Hector Babenco, 1981)
A film that rests somewhere between the JD films of the 1960s and François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (or perhaps, more appropriately, Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados), and Oliver Twist, Brazilian director Hector Babenco’s masterpiece is a tragic and hypnotizing and ever-important look at the street orphans of Sao Paolo. Filmed largely in documentary style, often using real-life street kids, Pixote is alternately touching and harrowing as we get to know the difficult life of the 10-year-old runaway title character (Fernando Ramos da Silva), and his brushes with crime, love, and the ever-present promise of underage prostitution. I admit that I have a weakness for films about the lives of young boys (David Gordon Green’s George Washington, Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, Truffaut’s Small Change, etc.) , and of that genre, Pixote (pronounced “Pi-SHOA-ta”) is easily one of the best. Indeed, Pixote is probably one of the best of all Brazilian films, and is all too often left off of top-10 lists and the like.
Kitten with a Whip (dir. Douglas Heyes, 1964)
I could describe the story to you, about how Ann-Margaret plays a runaway reform school girl who stabs someone and hides out in the suburban home of an older married man whose wife is out of town. But I will only cite two things to recommend the schlocky JD classic Kitten with a Whip: Number One: Ann-Margaret is gorgeous throughout and gives the kind of fierce performance you rarely seen anymore, and Number Two: She says “Everything’s So Creamy.”