Swing Kids

(Thomas Carter, USA, 1993)


Swing Kids is a grand folly of a movie: one of those bright-idea projects so beloved of contemporary Hollywood that leaves the viewer open-mouthed in disbelief from the word go.

The bright idea is this: history tells us that, during the rise of the Hitler Youth movement in Nazi Germany, some kids expressed their dissent by immersing themselves in (I quote the introductory titles) "American movies, British fashion and swing music". What neater premise for a socially conscious, feel-good, period-flavour teen flick?

Thomas Carter's dutiful realisation of this premise, from a script by Jonathan Marc Feldman, is pretty awful. Every incident is perfectly predictable, from the incessant intercutting of rigid jackboots marching and ecstatic dancers swinging, to the journey of central character Peter (Robert Sean Leonard) from carefree ignorance to political consciousness.

Perhaps what is most objectionable about such entertainments set within periods of momentous historical crisis is not that they simplify politics into melodrama, but that they provide such a sanitised and reassuring experience for the audience.

Swing Kids asks no questions about how ordinary people were taken up by the tide of fascist ideology; it unambiguously divides goodies from baddies (hammily embodied here by Kenneth Branagh) and strives to ensure that the goodies are normal people like us.

The same system rules a much more elaborately mounted film on Nazism and the Holocaust, Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993).

MORE Carter: Save the Last Dance

© Adrian Martin February 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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