Friday
Feb132009

Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid: Not Your Average Teenage 'Outlaw'

Watching the extras to this DVD, there is footage of the principal subject viewing himself in the opening moments of the film that is about him. He reacts expectedly, like a person seeing themselves on film for the first time.
It is the absolute point (although you sense it all along) where Jennifer Venditti’s documentary, Billy The Kid, turns over on itself and reveals that it's a bit of a sham.
A posture. A concoction. A set-up as it were. Not in a nefarious sense. The people are real enough. Billy is mildly autistic. He’s a bit damaged and therefore quality material for exploitation and study. The kid is bright, articulate, pop-referential and no more dangerous than your average 16-year-old nut-job plotting Armageddon against a chick who has broken his heart or a bully who has kicked his ass.
His mother is portrayed as a bit of a modern saint. Despite having chosen a crack-addicted/felon trucker (Billy’s father) for her first mate and taking on another husband who has obviously refused to be filmed for this particular documentary (and subsequently left the family for the warmer climes of Florida) as her second.
All the more puzzling is that Billy continues to pledge his love for the latter guy in front of god, girlfriends and camera.
And the camera is far from an objective lens. Billy constantly plays to it. Occasionally we catch an unguarded glimpse into his troubled nature, a slip into anger or emotional discomfort, but for the most part, it's the "Billy The Kid" show and it's on 24/7. Perhaps that's Venditti's aim. Or maybe it began as a candid documentary and slowly morphed due to Billy's natural ability to ham and pose.
The mother remains stalwart. She is a Maine woman, therefore uneasy on the eyes but strong of character. The men in her life all seem to fail her.
Relegated to trailer living, dealing with Billy's rollercoaster of emotion, rearing a second child and often donning a Metallica tour tee-shirt, it is little wonder she finds her straits as dire as they are.
By the way, she looks much like my own grandmother in youthful photos I’ve seen of her circa 1945. Most of my relations are from the strange state of Maine. I don’t cop to it easily. Neither do most of my relatives, who escaped to Massachusetts or New York or inevitably Florida but it is there, haunting us in our dreams and poking our cultural and social aesthetic.
None of these trials would matter so if it weren’t for the fact that Billy is mentally challenged and everyone refuses to admit it. Much like my Uncle Norman's homosexuality. We New Englanders guard our secrets closely.
Billy comes off as a prom date jilt away from pipe bombs and an Uzi at recess. He continually evokes a delusional form of hero worship toward fantasy figures and talks rather openly about violence and retribution.
If this film possesses any beauty, it is in its portrayal of a kid who is going through teenage angst and its terrible rite of passage.
We see Billy’s more than awkward approaches to women, his pursuit of a near-blind girl (one year his elder) who works at the local diner. He espouses to her his theories on life, behavior, family and idols. And boasts his referential knowledge of television, music and popular culture; surprisingly extensive for his limitations, youth and remoteness from culture.
All to impress a girl who could care less about such things.
And that’s Billy’s problem.
His social reality is always a universe from his surroundings.
He’s a geek in a dweeb’s world.
He’s a dweeb in a geek’s world.
He’s a sissy to the jocks.
He's a purple belt kung fu artist to the sissies.
He’s a major dork to the ladies.
And he has a streak of misogyny due to his perception of his Mother’s failings with regard to men.
Billy has a learning disability that has not been fully addressed.
When his Mother was proud to say that the doctors who treated him in Boston were “wrong” because his teachers in Maine decided Billy could be taught and educated normally, she fucked her son over despite loving him very much.
Billy is not ready for the real world just yet.
People have and will take advantage of him.
He’s not mentally challenged in the “pure” sense of those words.
He's just not quite ready to handle heartbreak, higher education, a career path, political truths, or healthy cynicism. The loving, nurturing stasis that a small Maine town provides is wonderful... the rest… his loving Mother offers. But what he really needs is a professional therapist.
I'm reluctant to recommend this film to many others. It's enjoyment for me was very personalized. Its northeastern focus, close to my bones. The high school was much like mine sans the modernization of streamlined desks, dry-erase boards and shared classroom space. The language was comforting. I loved hearing the soft “R’s” again, as in “Pock the cah“. But the point (if any) was garbled. A character study that got out of hand in the indulgence of its subject.
It was a peek… a stilted, obviously intrusive peek into the life of a young man who needs psychological help, not a sense of dim celebrity to get his life on track.
Then again, I’ve never believed documentary filmmakers owe anything to their subjects.
The camera is on my friends. You want to be famous? Sign this and all your fears will go away.
Especially if the boys like to call you “re-tah-ded”.

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