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The International Writers Magazine: Enter the A.S.B.O Generation;

Kidulthood - A Modern Contemporary Classic
Directed By; Aml Ameen
Written by; Noel Clarke
Starring; Aml Ameen, Red Madrell, Noel Clarke, Jaime Winstone, Adam Deacon, Femi Oyeniran, Madeline Fairley
Calvin Hussey

With today’s journalistic media relentlessly bombarding the British public with increasingly distressing reports concerning the degradation of our youth, it’s unsurprising that such a moral panic would eventually transfer to our entertainment industry. In the midst of such a media wide obsession with the decline in our nations teenagers the British film industry has been long overdue its own commentary depicting such a growing social concern. Written by and starring Noel Clarke 2005’s Kidulthood achieved exactly this and did so with a gritty yet energetic realism.

Ever since the days of films such as Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause, followed by 80’s John Hughes classics Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles, and even leading up to this very day, the teenage "rites-of-passage" film has always had a strong place in the medium of film. The backbone of such films has frequently been inclusive and explorative of key themes including the doomed lovers, the growing pains of maturing and a defiant conflict with authority and the adult regime. Like the "rites of passage" movies that came before it Kidulthood is also no stranger to such themes; however it paints an extremely dark and more desolate picture of today’s youth.

Utilising an archetypal "day in the life" narrative structure Kidulthood documents the antics of a group of West-London teenagers when they’re given the day off from school due to the tragic suicide of a fellow classmate. Following the young teen’s exploits up to a climactic party sequence the film explores many problems and growing concerns that reflect the most worrisome of today’s newspaper reports. Friends Trife (Ameen), Jay (Deacon) and Moony (Oyeniran) roam around the West End getting up to typical teenage mischief while planning revenge on older bully Sam (Clarke) after a particularly nasty "happy slapping" incident. Their actions lead Sam to prepare a violent revenge on the three unknowing teens.

Around this Trife is also becoming deeply involved in the gang activities of his Uncle Curtis (Cornell John) by adapting and delivering firearms. Meanwhile Alisa (Madrell) is struggling to deal with an unwanted teen pregnancy while haplessly following her best friend Becky (Winstone) around London as she uses sex as currency to purchase cocaine off adults quick to take advantage of her youth and naivety. Elsewhere in the film Sam’s girlfriend Claire (Fairley) suffers his violent abuse through her own adolescent insecurities. The adults in this film rarely feature beyond a peripheral level to the teenagers, seen as either clueless like the mother who urges her daughter to "use a condom" oblivious to the scene of domestic violence taking place in the next room, or as helpless as the teacher who fails to command respect in a school rife with bullying.

Of course such sinister and troublesome depictions of an adolescent generation have been seen before in films such as Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) and Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen (2003), however never before has such a film hit home to a British audience quite like Kidulthood. Every aspect of the film strives to bring the seedy realities of today’s inner-city youths to life. Clarke’s script is littered with authentic urban vernacular, the characters clothing is strikingly accurate to today’s growing hip-hop culture and, with the veteran expertise of Trainspotting (1996) cinematographer Brian Tufano on hand, inner-city London has never appeared so dynamic and true to life. To complete the atmosphere of the film Kidulthood utilises a unique and well matched soundtrack featuring current pioneers of the U.K hip-hop and "grime" movements such as Plan B, Dizzee Rascal and The Streets.

To scrutinise this film further the only obvious flaw that’s apparent is the awfully compressed nature of the narrative, that is to say that it’s extremely unlikely, if impossible, that all these horrific situations could happen to one group of teenagers in a single day, however one has only to scan through a catalogue of newspaper articles to realise that these events do happen in modern day society. It’s this realisation that justifies such a compressed nature as being a necessary device to depict the problems that today’s youth face in our current society.

Some critics may have attacked Kidulthood for painting a glamorous depiction of seemingly atrocious scenarios, particularly focusing on the films "happy slapping" incident, however after witnessing the horrendous acts that are portrayed throughout the entirety of this movie, one would have to severely question the mindset of someone who could draw an alluring experience from viewing the film. Its scenes are, more often than not, extremely fascinating and visceral, but to view them as "appealing" or "glamorous", in any way what so ever, should prove to be a very unlikely reaction amongst the predominant percentage of its viewers. Clarke himself has been quoted to explain that;
"New crimes are evolving with technology and mobile phones, but this is not a justification. It’s just me highlighting what’s happening. One newspaper said this film was promoting these crimes. I wrote this film three years ago when it was already happening and if they had paid attention then, they wouldn’t think it was all so new now."

After viewing the film for myself it’s this writer’s opinion that Kidulthood does not aim to make its characters likable or pleasant, at points it does ask you to sympathise with their situations and youthful vulnerability, but in no way condones the horrendous actions that they perform during their journeys. Urban, multicultural, adolescence has never been brought to life with such brilliance and vibrant, yet somewhat, over embellished realism. Therefore, with this in mind, it’s a film that should merit the awareness of it audience, young or old, and in reflection is most deserving of being recognised as one of the great contemporary commentaries of our current times.

© Calvin Calvin March 2008

Calvin is studying for his Creative Writing Degree at the University of Portsmouth
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