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Swing Kids, the movie

March 15, 2009

History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure. – Thurgood Marshall

I finished watching the movie; Swing Kids, starring among other famous names, Robert Sean Leonard and Christian Bale.  It was, as I mentioned earlier, a truly scary movie about a bunch of kids who liked Swing music, which did not endear them to the Nazi regime.

A lot of recognizable names in the movie (some not even credited), including music by James Horner, and it shows.  I am especially fond of Robert Sean Leonard, who now plays opposite Hugh Laurie in House and is an extraordinary actor.  Would you have thought that a person could convey a tortured agony of the soul while dancing alone to Swing music?  Me either. 

There isn’t a lot of graphic violence onscreen.  For example there’s torture but we don’t see it; we see the victim’s son realizing later what it all meant. We don’t see gas chambers, we see a cold, brutal delivery in a nice inlaid box.  We see kids soon to be caught in the thuggish maw of history. 

This is another one of those little historical tidbits I never knew about, but apparently there really were Swing Kids in Nazi Germany.  They didn’t single-handedly bring down the Reich or anything, and many of them paid for their lives for the desire to enjoy an art form that wasn’t approved by Himmler.  They started out, apolitical; they just wanted to dance and enjoy their subculture.  The film is an impassioned answer to the question; “Why not just go along?  What does it matter if we sing one song for the Fatherland?”

If we think we regulate printing, thereby to rectify manners, we must regulate all recreations and pastimes, all that is delightful to man.
- John Milton

I guess totalitarian regimes need to control the artists.  At one end you have Steve Martin paying for the production of a play he wrote that got banned from a high school, then the school authorities that banned it, and then Tipper Gore trying to keep smut and violence away from kids.  Somewhere to the right-of-center you have Nazis insisting that all art glorify the Fatherland, and at the far extreme you have the Taliban destroying all the musical instruments they can find.  They are the answer to the question: “What would it be like, a society without art?”

I don’t read a whole lot of fiction but when i do, the fact that it IS fiction allows me to enjoy it as a pastime.  It is a dramatization, not a documentary, but it recounts a real time and real situations.  In the not-so-distant past, our kind actually went there.  Standing between us and a repeat performance is the poet, the playwright, the musician, the dreamer, the intellectuals and artists.  You know, the ones who misshape the human spirit to fit in a totalitarian box.

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