7/23/08

RVOD033 Why Vandalism?

(1955, Educational/Short, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

These guys vandalize something once every twelve years.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Three boys vandalize their school, but it’s not totally their fault.

Summary:

Why not arson?  Or parcheesi?Against the depressing backdrop of an urban wasteland, to the horn-blaring music of a gritty crime drama, three boys aimlessly wander the night, angry at the world and everything in it. The narrator suggests various causes for this generic and unprovoked rage. One boy’s parents don’t love him enough, for instance. Another boy’s parents love him too much, drowning him in unwanted affection. The third boy is poor. These appear to be reasons enough to avoid all the neighborhood activities—free movies, community center sports, church services, etc.—even when said activities are thrust into the boys’ faces every few minutes by concerned neighbors.

They end up at school, where they notice an open window, where they break into a classroom, where they pet the professor’s pet rabbit, where they start ripping up papers and knocking over shelves, where a spontaneous fire kills the rabbit and draws the attention of the night custodian. The next scene takes place in court. A judge notes that the boys are at fault for everything they’ve done, but then, in true 1950’s style, he goes on to shift the blame to their parents.

Thoughts:

Tell us about the rabbits, Jeff.Why Vandalism does its best to engage us, but ultimately fails by trying to stuff two minutes worth of vandalism into sixteen minutes and some-odd seconds worth of educational short. Give the boys a minute a piece for background and another minute for sentencing, and you’ve got six minutes worth of material, tops. It feels as if the writer combined plot elements from Of Mice and Men with the aimless dialog style of Waiting for Godot, but without any of the eloquence of Steinbeck and Beckett. Then he saw that the result practically reached out of the screen to yank your eyelids closed, and tried desperately to spice it up with the incidental music from Dragnet. So it’s strange, but in a boring way.

As for the message, well, as usual fifties psychology takes things too far. Yes, the community should do something to help the boys. Yes, their parents probably should have been nicer/more attentive/richer. But, like most other juvenile crime films from the fifties (that I’ve seen, anyway), they fail to present any plausible reason for the vandalism—just endless opportunities not to vandalize something, after which they do anyway. Most of these boys’ trouble has to do with the fact that all three of them are incredibly, tenaciously and unrelentingly stupid, effectively eliminating any hopes the filmmakers might have of making me sympathize with them.

Mike, Bill and Kevin do their best to fill the mostly empty space, and for the most part they succeed. While one boy looks bleakly off into the distance, Kevin says, “Why did I major in vandalism? It opens less doors than a classics degree.” While the narrator continues to decry the practice of vandalism, Bill adds, “The scourge of mankind. Right after jaywalking.” When the narrator asks how to stop vandalism, Mike suggests, “Invent videogames two decades earlier.” It’s long and it’s kind of dull, but the Rifftrax crew makes it interesting enough to pick up and watch at least once.