Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
"Swing Kids" involves a very small footnote to a very large historical event. In Nazi Germany in 1939, we learn, while Hitler was rounding up Jews and launching World War II, a small group of kids wore their hair long and danced to the swing music of such banned musicians as Benny Goodman and Count Basie. Occasionally they got into fights with the brownshirts of the Hitler Youth brigades.
If the Swing Kids had evolved into an underground movement dedicated to the overthrow of Nazism, we might be onto something here. But no. A title card at the end of the film informs us that some of the kids died at the hands of the Nazis, and others were forced into the German Army and killed in battle, but that some survived, and after the war there were still Swing Kids in Germany.
Isn't that terrific? No doubt they continue even to this day, celebrating their 70th birthdays by boogieing to the "Bugle Call Rag." Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, could have been the original Swing Kid. One of the peculiar elements of this film is that the Kids don't seem very political. The screenplay is so murky, indeed, that I was never sure whether the Kids hated the Hitler Youth lads because they were Nazis, or simply because they didn't swing. At a time when civilization was crashing down around their ears and Hitler was planning the Holocaust, it doesn't make them particularly noble that they'd rather listen to big bands than enlist in the military. Who wouldn't? In an ambiguous scene early in the film, the Swing Kids hear that Hitler Youth types are beating up on a fellow Kid in an alley.
They race to the rescue, beat the Youth members to a pulp, and then discover the victim was not a Swing Kid but a Jew. They stand around confusedly while the hero's little brother explains that, gee, he "thought it was a Swing Kid.