Dec 16, 2012

Bless the Beasts and Children

When I was a kid, our church forbade going to movies, but a combination of factors (a babysitting uncle, an adventurous friend, increased freedom) led to me seeing a lot during the summer and fall of 1971: The Million Dollar Duck, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Omega Man, The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight, and Bless the Beasts and Children, an early example of the "shirtless teens working together" genre (others include Toy Soldiers, White Water Summer, and White Squall). But I found it painful to watch, and I haven't seen it since.

It stars a group of misfit teens at a summer camp, bullied by the others, ostracized as "The Bedwetters." They all have problems with distant, abusive, over-achieving, or absent parents (another of the establishment vs. youth plotlines of the hippie generation).
Counselor Cotton (Barry Robins, center)
Violent juvenile delinquent Teft (Billy Mumy of The Twilight Zone and Lost in Space).
Overweight Shecker (Miles Chapin, right)






The antisocial brothers Lally 1 (Marc Vahanian, right) and Lally 2 (Bob Kramer)
Shy, introverted Goodenow (Darel Glaser)

When they discover that a herd of buffalo at a nearby preserve will be hunted and killed, the Bedwetters decide to take action.  In 1971, during the heart of the Vietnam War, we couldn't miss the parallel between hunting buffalo and the parents' attempts to destroy the boys.


There is some buddy-bonding between Cotton and Teft, but usually the boys act as a group.













They even sleep together in a mass of entwined bodies.






The boys in Bless the Beasts and Children are not nearly as muscular as those in White Squall or Toy Soldiers; they are children, soft and vulnerable, in need of protection and nurturing, not objects of desire.

The many shirtless and semi-nude shots -- underwear so revealing that you literally see everything -- have been criticized as inappropriately erotic, but actually they add to the sadness of the movie. We see not only who the boys are now, but who they could become -- strong, powerful, potent -- endless human potential destroyed.

Only Bill Mumy and Marc Vahanian are still active in show business (Bill primarily as a singer). Barry Robins, who was gay in real life, died in 1986.  Miles Chapin is now an environmental activist and writer.


5 comments:

  1. I can't figure out how they filmed this. It looks awfully risque.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The 1970s was more open about nudity in general, especially with juveniles, where it was used as a signifier of innocence

    ReplyDelete
  3. Films in the 1970s were also trying to be more realistic. I always find it interesting when people think some film from that era is exploitive or erotic. Most boys at summer camp wouldn't have brought pajamas, so showing boys sleeping in their underwear was likely just a more accurate depiction.

    ReplyDelete
  4. On the other hand, they might have put some clothes on before wandering around in the woods in the middle of the night.

    ReplyDelete
  5. If you still haven't, you should probably try and re-watch this one.. The character of Goodenow is probably the most "open" depiction of a gay teen in film up to that time (which is what this site is about). Aside from his natural effeminacy (not overplayed for cheap "laughs", but portrayed sympathetically), he also goes so far as to refer to the other boys considering him a "fairy". Granted, the character never states emphatically "I am gay", but it's deliberately made abundantly clear so that any teenager in the audience (even the straight ones) understands what the character is about. I haven't read the book, but I've been told it lays it out even more explicitly that the character is gay, but in the film it's clearly intentional on the part of the writers, director, and actor to clearly and unambiguously portray him as a gay character. No mistake about it. I highly recommend you try re-watching it.

    ReplyDelete

No comments that use abusive or vulgar language or point out that a character is Not Wearing a Sign.