The Kids Are Not Alright

19 Aug 2013: Warrendale (DVD, 1967, Allan King)

Entering blindly, it took me some time to understand what was occurring in the opening scene, which heightened the deeply unsettling feeling I had in witnessing what appears to be a mother and father getting their rebellious daughter out of bed for school in the morning, using not just the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” but alarmingly forceful physical manhandling. It wouldn’t be too out of place for some regular American households, probably, but soon we realize in the ensuing sequence that this is actually an institution for enfants terribles of all sorts, some violent, some potty-mouthed, most contemptful of authority – here evoking the theory of Michel Foucault, for we have to wonder if centralizing delinquents together is really going to help them adjust to the world outside. King and crew use their handheld Panopticon with just as questionable an effect on the behavior of the children photographed as the supervisory practices of the attendants themselves; one finds it difficult to see the emotions and frenzies undergone by the intelligent subjects as fully unstaged or spur-of-the-moment (unlike the films of Jean Rouch or Agnès Varda, no one acknowledges the camera or the methods of the filmmakers, except for a short telephone conversation which doesn’t reveal much). Whatever it is, though, manipulative as it may be, it has resonant power and it raises important questions about discipline and youth.

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