Bloody Kids

 

 

This 1979 collaboration between two of the UK’s brighter rising talents – writer Stephen Poliakoff and director Stephen Frears – is a strange affair. Set in a slightly slipped-reality version of faded seaside Southend, it follows two 12-year-old pranksters (Peter Clark and Richard Thomas) who stage a sham knife fight – just for something to do, or so it seems at first – which ends up with one of them in hospital. What follows is a drab odyssey through all the public spaces the era offered – football ground, shopping precinct, disco, underground car park, Chinese restaurant, cop shop, hospital, caff – as Leo (Clark) is quizzed in hospital by the police, keen to know who his assailant was. Mike (Thomas) on the other hand is drifting through town, being picked up and made the mascot of a gang of punks (led by Gary Holton). If the acting is on the whole terrible, there is the suggestion that it is meant to be. We’re watching a film about a world lacking in affect, populated by people who seem barely to notice what’s going on, populated at the edges by punks and plods who seem equally nonplussed with life. Frears bathes it all in a bleak corridor atmosphere, which after a while begins to sharpen the anti-miserabilist urges. But Bloody Kids also has a morbid, sarcastic humour to it. And it undeniably catch some of the gloom of the post-punk, pre-Thatcher era, of a world going to the dogs, perhaps better even than it intended.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2008

 

 

Bloody Kids – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Bloody Kids”

  1. It's difficult to know how to assess this film. There are parts that deserve a 10 star rating and parts that barely deserve 1 star. I saw this film once when I was about 9 years old and it had a huge impact on me at the time. Having just watched it as a 37 year old I can understand why although I barely remembered anything about it.

    The story is quite simple. It starts with a car crash. Leo, an 11 year old boy watches the aftermath of the police clearing up the mess. From one of the police cars he steals a policeman's hat. The next day he shows the hat to his friend Mike at school. The hat is stolen from them by an older boy who throws the it onto the school roof. Leo and Mike find their way onto the roof to recover the hat. On the roof Leo offers to give the hat to Mike if he will take part in a practical joke. Specifically Mike has to pretend to stab Leo in a staged fight outside of a football match. Leo acquires some fake blood from the school drama department to make the stabbing look real. However during the practical joke Mike accidentally stabs Leo for real or possibly Leo pulls the knife into himself on purpose. We never find out which is the truth. Leo is taken to hospital and Mike goes on the run. The rest of the film concerns the rather bizarre interaction between Leo and the police who come to question him and the even more bizarre situations that Mike gets himself into.

    There is a great deal about this film that doesn't make much sense and it's hard to get inside the motivations of the characters. Exactly why Leo wants to stage his own fake stabbing isn't at all clear. Even the character of Mike asks him in the film why they are doing it to which Leo doesn't give much of an explanation. The way the police hang around the hospital for hours doesn't make much sense either. While on the run Mike runs into a rather nihilistic character called Ken who takes Mike to a night club. Later Ken steals a car and takes Mike joy riding. Ken is another character whose behaviour was very hard to understand. Exactly what his interest is in hanging around with an 11 year old boy on the run isn't exactly apparent. Why Ken almost commits suicide later by jumping off of the roof of a bus can only be described as baffling.

    There was much in this film that seemed unnecessary and the whole film would have benefited from being considerably shorter. For example I wasn't at all sure why the whole scene in the Chinese restaurant was included. Again the motivation of the characters was also confusing. Ken takes Mike for a meal he doesn't have the money to pay for. He then walks out without eating any of it leaving Mike on his own. Mike manages to escape through the kitchens and Ken picks him up outside in the stolen car. The whole scene can again only be described as baffling.

    Having said all that there are some fantastic elements to this film. Visually some of it was very beautiful. The scene of the two boys on the school roof was exquisitely shot. The overall atmosphere of the film is odd and unnerving. It portrays a frightening after dark urban landscape in which a disaffected youth run wild. Of all the characters Leo in particular is unsettling. He is able to lie with total ease to anyone including the police and speaks with the articulacy of an adult. There are very few moments in the film where he shows any emotion at all and yet there is a sense that there is something quite disturbing going on under the surface. It seems initially that Leo has deeply betrayed Mike be telling the police a stack of lies and putting all the blame onto him. However at the end the two boys remain friends. Leo explains that he did it to give Mike what he wanted. We can only assume he thinks Mike wanted to feel dangerous and enjoyed being chased by the police. It's hard to interpret this film in any one simplistic way however.

    A hugely important element of this film was the music score. It has to be said that it was fantastic and inspired. Much of it was of a very emotionally intense thriller/horror genre. However the truly inspired aspect was setting much of the film to spaghetti western music that wouldn't have sounded out of place in a Sergio Leone movie. It gave the film a very dramatic and exciting feel. There doesn't seem to be any obvious reason for using this music but it works perfectly.

    The final scene of the two boys walking through the chaos they have caused in the hospital by setting off the fire alarm is quite breath taking. The ending shot is of both of them lighting up a cigarette and staring off detachedly into the distance completely unconcerned about any of the trouble they have caused. Leo had already explained to Mike that as 11 year old boys they would get away with it all.

    Exactly what the message this film was trying to give isn't at all clear but I have to say for all it's faults it's a genuinely unique film. Bloody Kids reminds us that all the fears that we have about modern youth in Britain today are hardly new and although dated in style it is as relevant today as it was then.

  2. Originally made for television, Bloody Kids (aka One Joke Too Many) emerged from an era of gritty, state-of-the-nation British film and TV dramas such as Scum, Meantime and its near-namesake, London Weekend Television's 'Kids', also from 1979.

    Stephen Poliakoff's debut screenplay comes furnished with a more esteemed roster than most – director Stephen Frears, producer Barry Hanson (The Naked Civil Servant, The Long Good Friday), cinematographer Chris Menges (Kes, Babylon, The Killing Fields) – and, though thematically typical of the period, departs from the norm with its more experimental approach, imbued with hyper-real stylings which owe more to European art cinema and American noir than kitchen sink verite.

    Filmed entirely on location in Essex, Bloody Kids opens on a downbeat tableau – the aftermath of some dreadful traffic accident in the middle of the night, a portent of the foreboding, near-hallucinatory atmosphere the film maintains to the unsettlingly ambiguous finish.

    The slender premise springs from the actions of two listless 11-year-old young boys, the cold, manipulative Leo (Thomas) and his weaker, more impressionable friend Mike (Clark). Contemptuous of the fallible police force (Mike has already filched a police helmet from the accident scene), the boys arrange a staged knife fight outside a football stadium with the aid of a bag of stage blood and a real blade.

    As Leo orders the less-than-convinced Mike, "You drop the penknife and run. The police will come and question me, and then they'll find out it's all a joke." Won't they be angry, asks Mike? "They haven't got the time," shrugs Leo. Then, chillingly, "We're too young, you see. We can do anything." When Leo is accidentally stabbed for real (the split blood-bags underfoot making a cackling mockery of the situation), Mike legs it, still assuming it's part of the joke, and Leo is taken to hospital.

    Though Leo recovers quickly, he becomes seduced by the lies he tells detective Ritchie (O'Connor). "Mike's a bit weird you see, sometimes he talks about killing people… I've seen weird things he's drawn." While on the run Mike is 'adopted' by new-wave-styled reprobate Ken (Gary Holton of 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet' fame) who, impressed by his little charge's fresh notoriety ("you're going to be quite famous for a brief moment"), takes him on a joyride through town – and it's here where Bloody Kids comes unstuck.

    The introduction of the magnetic, gobby Holton fatally unbalances the film, with the London actor dominating every scene he's in. Car-jacking, shop window-smashing Ken is also a conduit for Poliakoff to explore the seamier face of the late 1970s, where entropy is the disorder of the day, teens meander lifelessly in their death discos, and past their sell-by-date punks straggle blankly through the chaos.

    Everywhere, everyone is bored beyond belief, ripped from their emotional moorings. Detective Ritchie, too, can barely summon up the effort to spend a few quality moments with his wife (familiar face Geraldine James). The only illumination comes from ghastly neon strobes spearing the night, as surveillance cameras keep a dispassionate, Orwellian watch over all, the sense of voyeurism heightened by the ubiquitous television sets beaming out images of cops and robbers, a banal parallel of the events being played out on the streets for real.

    Ideally, Bloody Kids would be scored exclusively by Joy Division – the entirety of 1979's 'Unknown Pleasures' should more than suffice (It would certainly be preferable to the bizarrely inappropriate one by the film's composer George Fenton, which resembles something out of a Django western and was oddly nominated for a BAFTA.) Poliakoff is so concerned to ladle on the nihilism with a black-handled trowel that the boys' central dilemma – actually more troubling and worthy of exploration than this latter-day Bosch vision – soon falls by the wayside.

    Nevertheless, the two young leads are excellent, Thomas in particular. Easily the more damaged of the pair (in both senses), Leo's a smart, golden-haired cherub with the chilly, unblinking gaze of a Great White, his casual defacing of his school corridor with a marker pen (indelible, he blithely assures a teacher) being symptomatic of his utter disdain for authority. "You seem to seep into every corner of the school," the teacher tells him, "like the smells from a cafeteria." More uncomfortably, in Leo and Mike we might also see future echoes of two other emotionally damaged boys who, like our juvenile screen pair, were also once picked up on a CCTV camera, leading a trusting toddler through a shopping centre.

  3. Originally made for television, Bloody Kids (aka One Joke Too Many) emerged from an era of gritty, state-of-the-nation British film and TV dramas such as Scum, Meantime and its near-namesake, London Weekend Television's 'Kids', also from 1979.

    Stephen Poliakoff's debut screenplay comes furnished with a more esteemed roster than most – director Stephen Frears, producer Barry Hanson (The Naked Civil Servant, The Long Good Friday), cinematographer Chris Menges (Kes, Babylon, The Killing Fields) – and, though thematically typical of the period, departs from the norm with its more experimental approach, imbued with hyper-real stylings which owe more to European art cinema and American noir than kitchen sink verite.

    Filmed entirely on location in Essex, Bloody Kids opens on a downbeat tableau – the aftermath of some dreadful traffic accident in the middle of the night, a portent of the foreboding, near-hallucinatory atmosphere the film maintains to the unsettlingly ambiguous finish.

    The slender premise springs from the actions of two listless 11-year-old young boys, the cold, manipulative Leo (Thomas) and his weaker, more impressionable friend Mike (Clark). Contemptuous of the fallible police force (Mike has already filched a police helmet from the accident scene), the boys arrange a staged knife fight outside a football stadium with the aid of a bag of stage blood and a real blade.

    As Leo orders the less-than-convinced Mike, "You drop the penknife and run. The police will come and question me, and then they'll find out it's all a joke." Won't they be angry, asks Mike? "They haven't got the time," shrugs Leo. Then, chillingly, "We're too young, you see. We can do anything." When Leo is accidentally stabbed for real (the split blood-bags underfoot making a cackling mockery of the situation), Mike legs it, still assuming it's part of the joke, and Leo is taken to hospital.

    Though Leo recovers quickly, he becomes seduced by the lies he tells detective Ritchie (O'Connor). "Mike's a bit weird you see, sometimes he talks about killing people… I've seen weird things he's drawn." While on the run Mike is 'adopted' by new-wave-styled reprobate Ken (Gary Holton of 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet' fame) who, impressed by his little charge's fresh notoriety ("you're going to be quite famous for a brief moment"), takes him on a joyride through town – and it's here where Bloody Kids comes unstuck.

    The introduction of the magnetic, gobby Holton fatally unbalances the film, with the London actor dominating every scene he's in. Car-jacking, shop window-smashing Ken is also a conduit for Poliakoff to explore the seamier face of the late 1970s, where entropy is the disorder of the day, teens meander lifelessly in their death discos, and past their sell-by-date punks straggle blankly through the chaos.

    Everywhere, everyone is bored beyond belief, ripped from their emotional moorings. Detective Ritchie, too, can barely summon up the effort to spend a few quality moments with his wife (familiar face Geraldine James). The only illumination comes from ghastly neon strobes spearing the night, as surveillance cameras keep a dispassionate, Orwellian watch over all, the sense of voyeurism heightened by the ubiquitous television sets beaming out images of cops and robbers, a banal parallel of the events being played out on the streets for real.

    Ideally, Bloody Kids would be scored exclusively by Joy Division – the entirety of 1979's 'Unknown Pleasures' should more than suffice (It would certainly be preferable to the bizarrely inappropriate one by the film's composer George Fenton, which resembles something out of a Django western and was oddly nominated for a BAFTA.) Poliakoff is so concerned to ladle on the nihilism with a black-handled trowel that the boys' central dilemma – actually more troubling and worthy of exploration than this latter-day Bosch vision – soon falls by the wayside.

    Nevertheless, the two young leads are excellent, Thomas in particular. Easily the more damaged of the pair (in both senses), Leo's a smart, golden-haired cherub with the chilly, unblinking gaze of a Great White, his casual defacing of his school corridor with a marker pen (indelible, he blithely assures a teacher) being symptomatic of his utter disdain for authority. "You seem to seep into every corner of the school," the teacher tells him, "like the smells from a cafeteria."

    More uncomfortably, in Leo and Mike we might also see future echoes of two other emotionally damaged boys who, like our juvenile screen pair, were also once picked up on a CCTV camera, leading a trusting toddler through a shopping centre.

  4. This little-seen and under-appreciated film accurately captures the bleakness and alienation of youth like few other films succeed in doing. It was shown on New Zealand television about 20 years ago and I've never had a chance to see it again. But I remember great direction, music, and atmosphere. Takes its place among the late-70s/early 80s British classics, the quality of which seems to be gone forever – see Meantime, Made in Britain, and anything in that period by Mike Leigh. To think that this was made by Stephen Frears who now gives us dreck like Mrs Henderson and The Queen is truly dispiriting.

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