Standing By Yourself

2002, Movie, NR, 65 mins


Josh Koury's deeply personal documentary about teen life in a seemingly idyllic small town began as a 20-minute senior thesis. Expanding the film to 65 minutes for theatrical release, Koury pulled additional footage from the 60 hours of videotape that he shot over the course of a year as he followed his 16-year-old brother, Adam, and Adam's troubled friend, Josh Siegfried, around their leafy hometown of Clinton, NY. Surprisingly hostile and terminally bored, Adam, Siegfried and their friend Brandon tool around town looking for trouble, throwing rocks at local shops, fighting among themselves and getting hassled by cops and mall security. Siegfried returns to the trailer home he shares with his mother in nearby Utica to hit her up for a few bucks and argue over his messy room, then hooks up with Adam for a night running down whatever high can be gotten off of tussin cough syrup, grain alcohol, painkillers, Mountain Dew, grass, muscle relaxants and the Ritalin Adam swipes from his dad. Josh is soon sent away to county lock-up for neglecting to serve his 100 hours of community service for an unspecified crime; when we next see him, he's morphed into a hardcore punk with a six-inch pink Mohawk and taste for white-power hate rock. Adam, meanwhile, has been spending time with his more mellow friend J.J., leaving Siegfried to find a new niche among his prison acquaintances and hardcore compatriots. The only thing more painful than Siegfried's slow self-destruction is the cruelty and aggression with which he confronts the outside world: He's awful to his mother, who, like Mrs. Koury is divorced, and trying to raise her family on her own, and his racism is truly shocking. But we're left to speculate on the environment in which this behavior has been left to fester, and a greater sense of context might have made the film a richer, more complete experience. Home to prestigious Hamilton College, Clinton is an uneasy mixture of academic privilege and economic despair, small-town quaintness and stifling boredom. No doubt this tension informs Siegfried's and Adam's outlooks, but not enough of it comes through Koury's footage to be certain. One hopes Koury will return to this interesting project to flesh out this bigger story that continues to lurk just below the surface of what stills feels like a work-in-progress. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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