Kids of Today
Directed by Jérôme de Mizzolz
The grime, the dirt, and the crime—the hallmarks of New York City's punk era hold a continuing appeal for New York residents who didn't live through it. "Those of us who arrived later, to a Manhattan of falling crime rates, were both happy to live in a more forgiving Gotham but also wondering what we missed," wrote New Yorker editor Michael Agger in a recent Book Bench blog post. "So much of the city's art, writing, style, and half-deconstructed streets seem to have been formulated in that dirtier time."
A similar sentiment runs through Jérôme de Missolz's Kids of Today, albeit an ocean away. Inspired by an art exhibit of the same name, the documentary, which is sparse in plot and allusive in argument, takes the audience on a tour of the lively experimental music scenes in contemporary Paris, New York and Beijing while also looking back at the now mostly forgotten French punk scene from the late 70s and early 80s. Our guides are a group of young Parisian tattoo artists, fanzine editors, and musicians who travel the world alongside the 80s French music critic and dandy Yves Adrien (or, more precisely, 69-X-69, the executor of Adrien's will. 69-X-69 claims that Adrien is dead, but if we're referring to physical bodies, Adrien and 69-X-69 are the same person).
If you don't already know about any of this music, Kids of Today will do little to enlighten you in a factual sense. There are no talking heads to expand on the artists, venues, and ideas that Adrien refers to, and there are no subtitles to identify what bands we're watching perform (although you can try your best to use the end credits to educate yourself).
That said, if you have any interest in punk music and its more recent fusions with electronica, noise, and metal, this relative impenetrability should not dissuade you. The music is worth hearing, especially the performances by Crystal Castles and French bands This Is Pop and Frustration.
More troubling is Adrien, who becomes increasingly hard to bear as the film goes on. He spends the film pontificating in a meandering tone about modernity, the punk era, and, worst of all, the destitute state of music culture today. I almost applauded when, right after Adrien drones about how "the reality of today's scenes is so... banal," the movie cuts to a blistering noise-rock show that entirely undercuts his argument.
As a representative from the past, Edwige Belmore, a model from the 70s and 80s whom we meet in New York and watch perform a spoken-word cover of "Ne Me Quitte Pas," is more likable. But really the best moments in the film belong to those Parisian zine editors—in particular during two scenes where they dismantle Adrien's outdated and nostalgic views—and to the music, both old and new, which, with the exception of those attune to the French music scene, will be new and revelatory for a North American audience.
Opens April 13 at the reRun Gastropub Theater