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PUTTING THE CAMERA ON CHILDHOOD

Oh, my gosh. I don’t have anything to share with my blog today. But, I decided to share a little review I wrote as my goal is to blog something once a day! If you enjoy documentaries, filmmaking and human psychology then this film by Darren Stein and Adam Shell is for you! And, it is now on DVD!

PUT THE CAMERA ON ME is a deceptively cute film. It is actually a complex glimpse at the psychology of children and offers interesting insights into the development of adults and an artist. On the surface this is a nostalgic look at some home movies made in the 80’s by a group of upper class neighborhood kids. One of the film’s directors, Darren Stein, had access to a video camera and quickly took over as the artistic leader for all of the movies. Sure, these are just some cute kids having fun. But, this is also much more. This is a look into some moments in time as children grapple with a number of confusing issues that all of us face in life — fear, sexual awakening, unrequited love, loneliness and just trying to make sense of the adult world which seems to explode all around us. As we get older we tend to forget how overwhlelming the realities of life were when we were little.

What makes this film all the more valid is to watch a young Darren Stein turn into a little general of a filmmaker. It is clear that Darren is running this show and these little movies are his vision but they are all informed by his friends, their problems, the interpersonal dynamics and the general confusion regarding the horrors of adult life. A lot of children make home movies, but I’ve never heard of or seen children create “little” movies about the holocaust, homosexuality, nuclear war and the inability to fit in and make friends. These kids are confronting and dealing with some heavy stuff! This ain’t no Brady Bunch happy hour!

Stein and Shell today…

As an added feature of the DVD one can watch the home movies in their entirety. Some are extraordinary and rather disturbing for us, as adults, to view. Still, others are just some kids fooling around with a camera. The power of this film is the way Stein and Shell pull various scenes together so tightly with running interviews with the kids — all now adults and all still friends. This adds a new angle to the film. How many of us have stayed in touch with our childhood friends? These guys have. And, many of the issues with which they were dealing are still running between them two decades later. Much is all revealed thanks to some great interviews with the parents.

Among the conflicts — a confession of a crush reveals a heart still broken, a very normal childhood sexual experience continues to be a “sticky” subject between two of the men, some ongoing resentments over the dynamics of relationships and there is still a member of this team who remains very much in charge and in center stage! Which makes perfect sense as one watches these home movies progress over the course of a couple of years. Darren Stein is a director. No doubt about it.

Stein today…

Stein and Shell take turns chatting with each other from time to time and one can’t help but imagine the awkwardness of allowing us to peek into the young lives of these people. This is particularly true for Stein who has gone on to a great deal of success in the entertainment industry as a film producer, writer and director. From the first moment of PUT THE CAMERA ON ME we can see the emergence of a gay little boy trying to figure it all out. We also see sides of the artistic mind and personality that are not always “nice” or “caring” — and, this is a bold move for any artist to share with an audience.

There are so many revealing moments, but a few that really stood out for me is a movie called “Gay As A Whistle” which stars one of the kids who is clearly also working out the fact that he is gay. Just at the same time as Darren who wrote the movie. In this movie, our little star is dressed in women’s work out clothes (most likely Darren’s mom’s workout outfit) and acting as femme as possible. He holds a “magic” whistle that will turn you gay if you look at it. He goes on to turn the football team queer and per Darren’s direction there is a bit of uncomfortable sexual energy going on here — along with the humor. Just the fact that these kids are comfortable enough with each other to have filmed this says a great deal about the bond between these children. Another interesting moment features Darren dancing seductively — as if to a mirror. We all did it. It is very personal moment — and full of joy, innocence, curiosity and self-discovery. Another is that of one of the boys who seems to find ways to show off his chest and body whenever he can — and the fact that Darren’s camera is always quick to follow. I’d bet money that neither Darren or his friend could have named what they were feeling or doing, but the power dynamic we normally associate with adults is already formed in these normal boys.

The most disturbing and complex moments involve a movie in which we see a Jewish concentration camp victim being tortured and killed by a Nazi. We discover thru interviews and narration that the Nazi is played by a Jewish child and the part of the victim is played by a gentile child. It is a painfully disturbing moment that glimpses into the darker side of fear and the way children work thru the horrors of the adult world that are beyond adult understanding much less that of a child.

Entertaining, insightful, funny, cute, disturbing and memorable — this is a film which all of us can relate to on at least 2 to 3 levels. This is much more than some home movies. This documentary captures the pain, beauty, joy and sadness of growing up. Powerful stuff — and well worth seeing!


…on the ‘set’ of “Gay As A Whistle” …I forgot his little apron thing! LOL! So cute!

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    February 6, 2006. Uncategorized.

  • 3 Comments

    1. ing replied:

      That sounds awesome! I love documentary films these days. The whole idea of truth has been changing (think JT Leroy and James Frey) and even though it’s upsetting sometimes the way reality is no longer solid, it’s also fascinating to be in the midst of this. The “truth” in documentary film is all about editing. Did you get a feel for the truth depicted in this film?

    2. matt replied:

      It really is an excellent film. And, yes — I think there is truth in it. Not your ordinary documentary. But, I do agree — people are playing with “truth” more than ever.

      …my feet hurt.

    3. Tim replied:

      Wow, that sounds really interesting. You watch so much cool stuff Matty! Your reviews are great.

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