Sunday, December 14, 2008


Director: Jennifer Venditi (USA, 2007)

“I’m not black, I’m not white, not foreign…just different in the mind…different brains, that’s all.”

Having not heard anything about this documentary film, the first thing that struck me about it was how much the font on the DVD cover reminded me of the 1979 Kiss album Dynasty. It turned out to be a fitting observation, as the subject of the film is a young Kiss fan who, for reasons known only to himself, wants to grow his hair so it looks just like Gene Simmons’ infamously grotesque brillo pad ‘do!

In many ways, 15 year-old Billy Price is like most other teenage boys growing up in a small town in Maine and coming to grips with the pains of adolescence. He digs rock music and video games, fantasises about being a superhero, plays guitar, rides his bike around the neighbourhood and has his keen eye on the girl who works in the local diner. However, Billy has some major behavioural issues (his mother was told when Billy was a child that he may likely have to be institutionalised) and is anything but a ‘normal’ kid. The music he listens to is mostly old school (Kiss, Van Halen, AC/DC), he refuses to shoot women in video games (even if they are baddies) and the girl he has fallen for (a sweet, nearly blind kid named Heather) is quickly scared off by Billy’s intensity and desire for commitment.

Apart from the scenes which show Billy attempting to woo Heather (which can’t help but bring back memories – both happy and painful – of our own attempts at expressing young love), the best moments in Billy the Kid are those which reveal, either in words or facial expressions, the often suspicious way in which Billy is viewed by the adults around him: Heather’s step-father, while remaining silent, is clearly not impressed when one of the first thing Billy says to him is how much he loves violent slasher movies (which makes his reluctance to kill women in video games something of a contradiction) and the concerned school librarian immediately contacts Billy’s mother when the kid checks out a few books on serial killers.

There are also a few moments of genuine (if sometimes awkward) humour, such as Billy attempting to play guitar while watching Kiss perform God of Thunder on TV, telling a kid at school that movie monsters like King Kong are not real (“I’m not that stupid” ), and trying to impress Heather with tales of John Wayne movies.

Upon its release in the US, Billy the Kid seemed to garner wildly varying reviews, with many critics loving it but many also being somewhat repulsed by it. Curiously, I found myself sitting somewhere in the middle, detached and unable to be completely absorbed into Billy’s world by director Jennifer Venditi. It’s easy to see what attracted Venditi to Billy and why she thought he would make he perfect subject for a documentary, but I found the use of multiple camera shots, and the niggling feeling that Billy was playing up to the cameras, made the film seem at times more of a mock drama than a documentary.

Nevertheless, the film does paint an effective portrait of alienated youth, coming off almost like a filmic version of some bizarre My Space profile, and lovers of the documentary genre should find it interesting and rewarding viewing.
Copyright John Harrison 2008