Released by Canadian publisher Spectacular Optical, Kid Power! is a collection of essays on kid-centric cult classics lovingly assembled by cinephiles Paul Corupe & Kier-La Jannise.
I enjoyed this book immensely, but was also impressed by how wildly varied and diverse it was, as it features writers from around the world covering everything from the traditional to the darkest pits of the art house. While I was around when a lot of the stuff covered in this book was released (either on the big or small screen), I was surprised by how much of it was new to me. I found myself making a list while reading and definitely want to track down titles like Ken Loach's Kes and Ann Turner's Celia in the future.
The most comprehensive part of the book – and frankly, most impressive – was Kier-La Janisse deep exploration into the ABC Afterschool Special phenomenon of the seventies and eighties. I was absolutely shocked by how many now-famous actors got their start here – Jodie Foster, Jennifer Grey, Michelle Pfieffer, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rob Lowe & Amanda Plummer just to name a few.
The chapter that most appealed to me as a horror fan was the detailed rundown of actress Nicolette Elmi. A Euro-horror mainstay, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas & Craig Martin trace Elmi's career from her early uncredited roles like the one in Mario Bava's 1971 slasher Bay of Blood all the way up to her swan song as the usherette in Lamberto Bava's Demons in 1985.
There were two points that were really hammered home to me while reading Kid Power! The first was how profoundly affecting a piece of media can be if it hits you at the right place and right time. It can be inspiring, comforting and/or completely change your outlook. I think this was best represented by Chris Alexander's recollection of Barry Morse's adaptation of Isaac Asimov's The Ugly Little Boy, where seeing it at the age of eight brought home the concept of death and loss, and Robin Bougie's experience watching Curtis Hanson's The Children of Times Square paralleled his own midnight excursions into the underbelly of New York City.
The other thing was just how much children's programming – and development in general – has changed over the last few decades. It is almost certain that the material meant for kids in this book would never be produced today. It appears there is a general attitude nowadays that children need to be, for lack of a better term, “handled with kid gloves”. As Janisse states during her interview with John & Paul Hough;
“When I was a kid, we went to school by ourselves, we just went out after school and had to be home by a certain time. Now I have a brother who has kids, and they're supervised all the time. Everything was so different then.”
The work of John Hough is perhaps the greatest example of this, as he worked on several films for Disney (like 1980's Watcher In The Woods) during their “dark” phase, releasing films that sought to scare the bejesus out of their best customers. Now, children's programming seems so incredibly sanitized, as if its only function is to preserve the innocence of youth for as long as possible.
|Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis and Kyle Richards in Watcher In The Woods.|
Unfortunately, keeping the darkness at bay may do more harm than good in the long run. What would childhood be without discovery? If you ask me, to be deprived some of the wonderfully colourful treasures found within the pages of Kid Power! seems like child cruelty.