Freakin' funny slice of 80s suburbia
Linda of Moviepie | Seattle, WA USA | 06/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Calling Put the Camera on Me a documentary is a bit of a stretch. This is creativity in action!
At the film festival screening where I saw this movie, an audience member stood up and thanked filmmakers Darren Stein and Adam Shell for sharing their film, calling it "probably the single most accurate portrayal of growing up in the suburbs in the 1980s." Heck, I know I recognized more of MY suburban past in this movie than anything else I've seen on the big (or small) screen.
As a kid in Encino, California, Darren Stein was a budding movie director. He was one of those twerps who knew exactly what he wanted to be, and would get there goshdarnit, if not by talent, but by sheer force of will. He had the attitude (pitting neighbor kids at each other to vie for parts in his films), he had the ego, he had the means (heck, let's just point out how lucky he was to have a video camera at his disposal), and shoot, judging from the examples, he certainly had a head full of ideas.
Marvel at the examples of youthful creativity at work: There's the Holocaust movie, with one (Jewish) kid giving a Heil Hitler salute, and dragging his shirtless and gauntly made-up friend across the kitchen floor to the "gas chamber" somewhere off-camera. There's the nuclear war film, complete with the bright flash of the bomb and crazed survivors writhing on the lawn. There's the one about the crossing-dressing kid who converts football players to be "Gay as a Whistle!" Of course, there is plenty of murder and mayhem (with some gross, homemade gory make-up effects), and even some simulated gay sex! Hilarious! Especially when you consider that the ages of those involved was anywhere from about 15 down to 5 or so. [I was excited to see that the full versions of the kids' short films will be included on the DVD!]
Put the Camera on Me revists these days through interviews with the "kids" as they are now: mostly middle-class 20- 30-something professionals. You can still hear the neighborhood-gang dynamics at work (they are all still friends), as stories are told and argued, and teasings and fights from the past resurface like uncomfortable unhealed wounds.
Those reflections offer a nice perspective on the movies, but what makes this film so richly funny is that some of the parents of the kids are also interviewed, and for the most part, they had no idea what was going on. "I told him to stay off the roof..." says one mom, as we then see a movie of a couple kids scampering across a rooftop, simulating a fight where one kid ends up a bloody-faced carcass on the driveway below. If Put the Camera on Me is not indicitive of the average suburban upbringing, I don't know what is!"
Putting The Camera On Childhood
Matthew Stanfield | San Francisco, CA USA | 02/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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!
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 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!"
Tanner R. Crane | LA,CA | 06/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"OK - you want to test somebody on how comfortable they are with their adolescence and the embarrassing and maniacal changes therin - then get their immediate reaction from watching this uproarious doc about kids making socially relevant horror flicks in the suburban 80's. More than any movie I has ever seen, the film deals with burdening sexuality and ego in a way that is completely human, never dull, and flushed in the kind of inherent goodness of youth that is discolored by the fear-frenzied adult world where any quirk in youth is accredited to anything from insanity to perversion. Mini-mogul Darren Stien seems to be reaching for a deeper understanding of his triumphs and misgivings as the patriarch of strict kid's world. What he finds in himself and others isn't always pretty - but shows how one can improve and reconcile with age. What does change mean without reflection. I love this movie."
Hilarious childhood movies reveal a genius in the making
Mike Justice | Los Angeles, California | 06/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've never laughed and/or smiled so much in my life. My face literally hurt after watching this movie. The films Darren Stein (the director) made with his childhood friends were way more ambitious than anything my friends or I made as a child. We pretty much stuck to straight horror, whilst Darren and Company tackled such heady themes as the holocaust, child abuse, and nuclear war. My favorite part: a little girl screaming "no, mommy, no!" in a monotone while her mother "beats" her (the little girl's barely suppressed laughter audible throughout). Other parts worthy of mention include the concentration camp "execution" scene (shot in a suburban living room) and the "bank robbery" scene (also shot in what appears to be the same living room). What makes the film really special, however, is watching a young Darren exhibit signs of being a truly manipulative, megalomaniacal film director. It's sweet, and also a little bit scary. This film is a must for all artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians who knew what they wanted to be at an early age."