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Best of Boston 2009

Kid stuff

An idyllic Summercamp!, a brutal This Is England
By GERALD PEARY  |  August 7, 2007

SUMMERCAMP! Sweet, sunny days in the semi-wilds of Wisconsin.

Marshmallows roasting on an open fire are the only essential missing in Bradley Beesley & Sarah Price’s sweet, sunny-day documentary SUMMERCAMP!, which plays this weekend, August 10-13, at the Brattle Theatre. What work-enslaved adult wouldn’t swap days in a cubbyhole for these sprightly, fresh-air undertakings? Swimming, boating, archery, wheelbarrow races, and earnest folk songs passed on generation to generation! Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya!

The three-week getaway at Swift Nature Camp is definitely idyllic. These are white children, ages 6 to 15, from Chicago and its suburbs, and they get what their well-educated, liberal-minded parents have paid for: a protected environment in the semi-wilds of Wisconsin with lots of organized activities, smart and capable counselors, and empathetic people at the top. Lonnie Lorenz, the maternal-minded European who co-runs the camp, opens her arms to children lonely for their parents and calms them in the soothing voice of Ingrid Bergman. She can rock this insomniac’s boat any time!

Things haven’t much changed since boomers went to camp, with one exception: medication! Without the least self-consciousness, kids swap on-camera stories of all the pills they take. Drugs for ADD seem especially prevalent. An obvious virtue of Swift Nature Camp: those who are labeled as unpopular weirdos at home and at school seem comfortable here.

Is anything askew with this picture? There’s one day at camp when an annoyingly manic local woman arrives to turn the children into cheery, painted clowns. The older kids balk: “Too goofy!” And the movie keeps following one hapless child who really doesn’t fit in, either back home or at camp. That’s the endlessly grating Cameron, a chubby 14-year-old who’s pining for his mom one moment and doing cruel, stupid things to his fellow campers the next. His peers all loathe him, but the counselors are amazingly patient with this immature bozo. A far more appealing loner is nine-year-old Holly, a sad-eyed, Alice-in-Wonderland sprite who’s attracted to chickens and chickadees instead of other children. One night she decides to explain why, and her revealed family tragedy will break your heart.

Is that enough to march you to Summercamp!? There’s also a terrific soundtrack of bunk-friendly songs, most of them by the Flaming Lips, like “Jesus and a Spider Are in My Sleeping Bag Tonight.”

One of the best British features in many months, Shane Meadows’s scary, intense THIS IS ENGLAND, which opens this Friday at the Kendall Square, relates the filmmaker’s autobiographical tale of growing up as a tiny skinhead among adult skinheads, both fairly good ones and very evil ones. The time is 1982, and Maggie Thatcher’s Royal Navy has kicked butt in the Falklands, though there are, of course, some British dead, including the father of 12-year-old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose). This is an unacknowledged Oliver Twist tale, and the lonely lad, residing with his mom in a stuffy apartment in the East Midlands, hooks up with a friendly, boozy, party-crazy group of anarchic skinheads. Their Artful Dodger, Woody (Joe Gilgun), leads them in low-level acts of destruction, like dressing up in lavish, mismatched costumes and tearing asunder an abandoned flat.

Then, sprung from prison, arrives This Is England’s fearsome Fagin, a beady-eyed, balding racist, Combo (Stephen Graham), who somehow ingratiates himself with the impressionable Shaun. The 12-year-old pledges himself to a skinhead nation of rightist marauders who terrorize “Pakkies” and other immigrant undesirables. It’s only at the end that this powerful movie tumbles, with some contrived, cathartic melodrama. Otherwise, here’s a welcome reprise of the angry, class-conscious tradition of early-1960s British cinema.

Related: Virtual brotherhood, Here comes the Whambulance, You say you want a revolution?, More more >
  Topics: Film Culture , Bradley Beesley, Camping, Culture and Lifestyle,  More more >
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