Once upon a time there was a violent girl named Annie. She had long blond hair and her freckled face rarely smiled. Annie liked to play soccer as much as she liked to wear oversized men’s shirts. Her kingdom was the outskirts of a small town in Texas and her favourite pastime was destroying things. When Annie entered a grocery store, she would steal something; when she once stole a beautiful rainbow-coloured lollipop, she quickly bit it into pieces. One day, as Annie went on a stroll through the woods behind her house, she heard a voice from a hole in the ground and it seemed that her life was changed forever.
Kid-Thing, the new film by David Zellner (Beeswax) is a “Texan fable,” as the filmmaker said himself when he introduced Kid-Thing to an audience at the Sputnik cinema in Kreuzberg a week ago. What begins as a social drama about a young girl who grows up motherless and with a father who seems incapable of expressing emotions and care for her, slowly turns into a magical fairy tale that remains realistic enough to keep you wondering where real life ends and where the imaginative world of Annie begins.
The film starts with a montage of a muddy car race and close-ups of the dirty vehicles that get demolished in the course of this spectacle. The following violence in Annie’s often arbitrary and not-so-innocent crusades through her neighbourhood are filmed as such spectacles as well. Her outbursts of rage are in most cases not only visually stunning, but quite reminiscent of performance art, like action paintings. When Annie takes her paintball gun and wanders along the abandoned fields of the neighborhood, she spots a dead horse that is slowly decaying and whose face is covered in insects. The little girl starts shooting at it and slowly the corpse of the horse, now only shown in close shots, gets covered in paint wounds. The morbid beauty of the carcass gets ornamented by the colour and thereby becomes its own piece of art. But not only does the film turn to art as a reference, it also turns to well-known stories once told by two German men.
There is short story by the Brothers Grimm, for example, in which a horse is sent away by its owner because the owner doesn’t have any use for the horse anymore. In the fable The Horse and the Fox, the horse meets a cunning fox who convinces him to play dead in order to trick a lion into coming to the horse’s owner. The owner had told the horse that if he brought back a lion, he would take him back in. It’s hard to tell who the fox, the lion, and the horse are in Kid-Thing, but its borrowings from famous fairy tales are apparent and find their beautiful filmic translation in the eerie, yet enigmatic images of Annie’s adolescence. Annie is not literally sent away by her apathetic father, but her home is no place of comfort either. When she tries to mingle with the other kids at the playground, for instance, she is excluded because she comes from a working-class background and doesn’t fit in.
In another scene, Annie hacks at a rotten tree until she finds a big white grub inside the wood and squeezes it to death. The liquid is pouring through her fingers. It looks like water and it’s too much water for that little worm she has crushed. After a second I realized that this scene is taken from another famous fairy tale as well: The Valiant Little Tailor. It’s about a young tailor that kills seven flies at once, is then mistaken for a war hero, and tricks a giant into believing that he is stronger than him. Instead of squeezing a stone, he secretly exchanges the stone with a piece of cheese and squeezes so hard that water pours from his hands. Since not even the giant can press a stone so hard that water comes out of it, the tailor wins. Annie has no giant to fight, but maybe this giant simply doesn’t have a face or a name and is somewhere hidden in what we call life or growing up.
The difference between these fairy tales to Kid-Thing is that the film’s story avoids the clear morals that the Grimm Brothers often used. Reality is after all a little more complex and inexplicable than a short story and, although we can see where Annie’s aggression comes from, the story remains mysterious and artful.
Annie accomplishes her most stunning action painting when she smashes a young girl’s birthday cake with a baseball bat. The girl is tied to a wheelchair and unable to move and within seconds the colourful cake is turned into an explosion of cream, dough, and sugar. Annie grabs a gift and goes back into the woods, where – if we remember the beginning of the story – she heard an unknown voice coming from the darkness between the trees.
Let us end our story here and hope that this Pied Piper of Hamelin has played his tune well and will guide the little children not into their misery, but into the ancient caves of the cinema where they will discover the rest of this this Texan fable for themselves. Rest assured, you will be enchanted by the mysteries of reality!
Watch a teaser trailer: Here.
Kid-Thing, USA 2012, 83 min
director: David Zellner, cinematography: Nathan Zellner, actors: Sydney Aguirre, Nathan Zellner, languages: English, distribution: W-Film
Berlin screenings: Sputnik, Eiszeit, Zukunft (05.09.), Kino in der Brotfabrik (12.09.)