Hopefully This Will Help In You "Making Your Mind Up"
Break out your pen, score charts and clear that throat to complain about "bloc-voting" as we are dragged along like a "puppet on a string" by director Jamie Jay Johnson as he takes us on a journey into the musical unknown of Junior Eurovision. It says a great deal about we English and our collective lack of interest in the post- millennium Eurovision contest not only that we wouldn't be able to name this years winner, but that there was a competition, of the same name, dedicated solely to children between the ages of 11-15, which 23 million people watched, and we knew nothing about it...until now. Johnson's "popumentary" is a light hearted, yet serious affair that asks us to challenge our preconceptions by getting us to peer through the glitz and gaiety of the competition and see the real people that take, perhaps, the biggest journey of their lives.
"Sounds Like Teen Spirit" charts the stories of varying acts from across the European spectrum as they transcend from mere contenders in their homelands, to challenging for the 'perspex' cup that symbolises the true importance behind the competition, the prestige of being Eurovision champion. Johnson's style of filming is a very sympathetic affair as he treats his (not always) miniature subjects with a great deal of patience and compassion, always leaving the camera rolling long enough to pick up a gem of a quote or a momentary caricatural insight. He also has a penchant for picking up, not just insights in what is said, but what is around them with revealing pan-shots giving these characters a greater sense of humanity and that they are as vulnerable as every other "normal" child. But what helps catapult this into a league of its own as an engaging piece of work is the dry wit and timing that our guide has, capturing some unbelievably hysterical moments, even by filming something as ostensibly bland as fruit. Johnson's major skill is the ability to fuse the two fore-mentioned points and create a sense of empathy from the audience, drawing us closer in to a world which belies a sense of simplicity with its use of pyrotechnics and hosts with ludicrously over-the-top floral blasers.
It would be easy to be dismissive of the talent prior to a screening of this documentary as know-it-all, self-indulgent, selfish little devils and madams sporting more make-up than an "Olay" factory but that would be ill-advised. The children followed are surprisingly well- developed and philosophical about their journeys and perhaps give a greater feel of world- weariness than we are used to viewing in children, making it all the more compelling. Each bring a differing approach to the contest and each give a bit to the audience in return. Giorgos, the 11 year old Cypriot with an English accent that wouldn't be out of place in Kensington has been the recipient of taunts that he's homosexual down to his singing and lack of interest in all things football. The way he retells his tale and skulks around the school quietly singing while addressing the camera, wary of onlookers, is a heart warming and saddening affair, how someone with undoubted talent and had won his countries regional selection process, could still be so ill-treated. His philosophy, admirably, is to not pay attention and perhaps one day thank them for their jeering as a means of inspiring him to follow his dream. On the other end of the spectrum are "Trüst", the Belgian entrants that pip the very first child interviewed into the finals, who have an almost worryingly laissez faire attitude to the competition but mask a greater appreciation of the competition. While they may come across to many as "dotish", their drummers' statement that "it doesn't matter where we finish so long as we play well...if we don't play well it could kill our music career" highlights an understanding of the music worlds workings and above all a determination that could go otherwise missed. Accompanying them are Marina from Bulgaria, a member of seven piece "Bon-Bon" that hopes her father may be watching and return to his abandoned family if she puts in a performance to remind him that he's "left something good behind"; Mari from Georgia who believes, and is right to do so, that a stellar turn out of her traditional folk-dance mash up, will catapult her country into having a greater say in European affairs; and a whole host of nonsensical acts involving bright orange jackets, worryingly under-dressed "librarians" and an act solely based on the premise of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"...no prizes in guessing their nationality.
There are many references through this "popumentary" to the history of the European people and the continual battles and battlefields that we have found ourselves engaging in over the countless centuries. From the Crusades through to the Crimean there has been a history of warfare which Johnson now believes has manifested itself in the forms of the respective Eurovision competitions, noting light heartedly that there have been no European wars since the introduction of the "kids" event. While his comments are somewhat tongue-in-cheek there is an element of seriousness to his claim and perhaps leads itself into a serious commentary on current European politics and social-interaction than the mere quip would entail. Regardless, of the intent, "Sounds Like Teen Spirit" will warm even the most anti-miniature flag wavers' heart by showing these children as simply that, and not as shrunken prima donna's inflating their own sense of self importance. It is a skillfully crafted piece of cinema that manages to turn the oddest subject matter into a meaningful voyage of entertainment and self discovery. As Giorgos states in the last moments "I have had such a fun time here, but now I think someone else should have that fun" proving that many here are wise beyond their years. These truly are "Rock N Roll Kids".
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