Wolves of New York

I only recently heard about the documentary film The Wolfpack and so it seemed like a happy coincidence that after its name and subject matter caught my attention twice in the last six months, it popped up as a 99 c movie on iTunes.

I do enjoy a good documentary, even (and maybe especially) when it is about a subject I would not normally spend much time exploring.

Senna is a good example of this – it’s a film with a straight throughline to its awful conclusion, and even as you watch it, heart in mouth, you wish for a different ending – although the ending is well documented and as unavoidable as the history it records.

Another plus side to the Senna film is that the style and format of the film reflects the content. Documentary makers have a number of traditional techniques at their disposal: interview, dramatic reconstruction, archive footage, graphic representation. So it is fitting that Senna, a film about a man who became a superstar through his popularity in the media, comprises entirely archive news footage and interviews as it pieces together the story of its titular doomed champion.

For some reason, I had the impression that The Wolfpack had been made some years ago, possibly because I coupled it in my head with Capturing the Friedmans, which I saw decades ago and which relied similarly on a lot of home movie footage. The Wolfpack tells the extraordinary story of a family living in the middle of New York City and almost exclusively confined to their flat.

Having arrived in New York with his family, the father, who had the only key to the apartment, insisted on keeping the family ‘safe’ from the terrors of the big city by refusing to allow them out. The seven siblings, six brothers and one disabled sister were home schooled by their mother.

The family had an extensive collection of DVDs and the brothers learned about the real world through watching mainstream movies and spending their hours of entrapment transcribing the dialogue, creating elaborate sets and costumes and recreating the films in their home. Each of the brothers had long dark hair, and this coupled with their swathy complexions, exaggerated adult style of dress, preference for day RayBan sunglasses – another affectation picked up from the movies – together with their preference of moving around in a large group, gives rise to the name of the film.

The film is really an extended interview, interspersed with archive home video and present day footage following them as they live from day to day in the flat. It focuses on the oldest boy who broke the cycle of entrapment by one day deciding to defy his father and leave their home to walk around the block. His strange dress and stranger behaviour attracted the attention of local shopkeepers who called the cops, resulting in the family being discovered. The film then also shows the boys as they begin to venture out.

The film’s success is largely due to the insane situation that it depicts, which it is hard not to think impossible in this day and age. I was very surprised to discover that it was only made last year – I had for some reason assumed that this was an older film and story. What the documentary lacks in artistic flourish, it makes up for in content as it is hard not to watch and wonder how this entire family survived locked away for so long. 

As you watch the boys reenact scenes from Batman and Reservoir Dogs, it is hard not to be struck with the irony as they try to pull the outside world into their living space to somehow make contact with ‘reality’ while they are actually re creating fictions that most people watch to escape their real lives. 

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