I have to admit, my memories of high school are a bit fuzzy, but watching the subject of the documentary Billy the Kid (Zeitgeist Films) make his way through the world both made me feel fond nostalgia and triggered some cringe-inducing memories of those days of innocence.
Fifteen-year-old Billy says and does almost whatever is on his mind at the time, lacking the detachment and filter that most develop in order to survive the cruelties of the world (and high school, specifically). As a result, we're allowed an immediate inside look at Billy, which explains the choice for the opening scene: Billy opening his mouth as wide as he can to allow the camera to look far enough inside him to see his uvula ("It's that dangly thing at the back of the mouth," he says helpfully).
It's this full access to Billy's mind that drives the film, and allowed first-time director Jennifer Venditti to shoot a whirlwind of a story in only a few days. The first day is all about getting to know Billy. By the end of the second day, he seems to realize that there needs to be a love story and makes the acquaintance of a partially blind girl Heather. By the third day, he's talking her ear off and letting her into his world of karate, horror films and several other items that fall into the "too much information" file. On the fourth day, he asks to be her boyfriend, and she agrees, putting our hero on cloud nine. By the end of the fifth day, she's broken up with him, and Billy is inconsolable.
And that's Billy, really -- he's 100% on at all times, so everything is steeped in either joy or melancholy (and often the sweet spot where both meet). He's a romantic, a believer in justice, a purple belt in karate, loves horror films, Harry Potter and to play guitar along to KISS. And his best friend is his mother (the other hero of the film). He's like a combination of Napoleon Dynamite and Max Fischer from Rushmore, a geek to be sure, but one with a college grad's vocabulary and an appreciation for French Impressionism.
Venditti discovered her subject by chance during her job as a casting director for the film Bugcrush, and through the film, and especially in an interview that's part of the DVD's extra features, it's obvious that she developed a real fondness for her subject. On the DVD release, there's a secondary short film called "Pieces that Don't Fit" which edits together deleted scenes and post-film reaction from Billy and his mother. Watching them laugh and cringe a year later at certain scenes of the film was, in many respects, as fascinating as the film itself. Just prior to this (and after the film had been finished) Billy was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a kind of autism, but Venditti doesn't want that to be the lens which you watch Billy through here, so she's intentionally left that diagnosis out of this short, and the DVD, for that matter. It only comes up in the interview, where she clarifies her reasoning for leaving it out.
There was no soundtrack release for the film, but the music written for Billy the Kid makes its way onto the DVD here, including new songs from The Virgins ("Fight to Survive") and Lissy Trullie ("Billy"). But the real music star of the film is the band KISS, one of Billy's favorite bands (along with AC/DC). Part of Billy's attraction to the band is the makeup, which is kind of ironic given that Billy is metaphorically free of makeup. I think his attraction, like many adolescents, is more the confidence that rock bands like KISS exude. While playing guitar along to "God of Thunder," all the pain of being a lonely teenager is gone for the moment.
Sometimes to be the hero you have to endure pain ... sometimes life is a pain in the butt!
I know life sometimes can get tough, and I know life sometimes can be a drag,
but people, we have been given a gift, we have been given a road --
and that road's name is ... Rock and Roll!
"God Gave Rock and Roll to You" - KISS
Playlist: KISS songs featured in Billy the Kid