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entertaining and poignant, a great film
pipgirl29 November 2004
I'm a History teacher and we use Swing Kids as an introduction to the topic of alternative youth groups in Nazi Germany. I'm not saying that the film is 100% accurate, obviously some dramatic licence has to be taken, but its not far off. Many people on this site have questioned the accuracy, and validity of the film, especially mentioning the lack of consideration of the treatment of the Jews. However that is not what this film is about (if that is what you want see The Pianist or Schindler's List - also excellent films).

This film is looking at how some German youths avoided the Hitler Youth and the nazi regime insofar as they could, and what they spent their time doing (dancing, listening to swing music and being with their friends).It does show some useful aspects about how the Hitler Youth were expected to behave and the propaganda they were exposed to, as well as about swing youth and their attitude to the regime.It is an entertaining and poignant film which explores friendship,romance and growing up against the backdrop of one of the most vilified periods in modern history

Basically Swing Kids does what it does well. Maybe it isn't a Schindler's List, but it does have its merits.Watch it and you'll find them!

BTW - could I just point out, many people on here have referred to the Holocaust, as though it is interchangeable with the Nazi regime, and have used the phrase in their reviews. Just to clear up this: the holocaust specifically refers to the gassing of Jews at extermination camps from 1942 onwards, essentially the Final Solution. As this film is set in 1939 it is prior to this.
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A Useful Approach
JackCerf20 October 2005
The central characters in this movie are unpolitical teenagers who have no concern with the larger political issues of Naziism and simply want to enjoy themselves. Their only perspective is that Nazis are stuffy, conformist jerks and no fun at all. For this reason, a number of mainstream critics (among them Ebert and Berardinelli) trashed the picture for trivializing the crimes and horrors of the Third Reich. These critics, I think, miss the point.

The value of the movie is precisely that it is trivial. There is no hindsight. The audience, like the characters, is caught up in the everydayness of everyday life in a totalitarian state. The Nazis are the government, and as far as anyone can see in 1938-39 they are going to go on being the government forever. The war hasn't happened yet. The Swastika flag flying over every post office and courthouse doesn't give them a little shudder of horror; it's as normal as the Stars and Stripes is to us. All sensible, respectable people who aren't Nazis themselves go along with the Nazis, because they have no reason not to.

Auschwitz hasn't happened yet either. Sure, there are concentration camps out there somewhere, but that has nothing to do with normal, ordinary people who behave themselves. Unless you happen to know a Jew or a political dissident yourself, what the government is doing to people like that isn't your problem.

The teen-aged lead characters find themselves in opposition and in trouble, not because they have any principled objections to the government, but simply because they find respectable culture boring and want to amuse themselves. The first reaction of authority, in the person of Kenneth Branagh's kindly Gestapo man, is that all they need is a good talking to, a second chance, and a little constructive guidance in the Hitler Youth and they'll grow up to be good citizens. He's fifty percent right; Thomas does respond positively to the comradeship and healthy outdoor activity he finds there.

The ultimate choices made by the two boys are governed not by principle but by their personal situations. Thomas has been rebelling against his cold, pompous, wealthy father, whom he loathes, and he ultimately decides that being a dutiful Nazi and denouncing the old man to the Gestapo offers him much better revenge than dancing to illegal jazz records. Peter recoils from the Hitler Youth (and from his former friend) because his own father had disappeared, perhaps into the camps, after the Nazis took power several years earlier.

There's's no hindsight in the movie's perspective, and no heroism. Instead, it gives us ordinary, everyday people dealing with ordinary everyday life as they find it, from the viewpoint of a high school student. The movie leads the adolescents who are its target audience to ask themselves an unpleasant question -- would they be any different, any more politically aware, if they were in the same situation? Indeed, would they even realize it if they were actually in the same situation now?

The implicit answer is that they probably wouldn't be all that different from ordinary non-political German teenagers in 1938, minding their own business, going about their own lives, and at most trying to carve a little more personal space than the government wants to give them. That's disconcerting and not at all flattering, which is why Swing Kids is worth watching.
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Good moments, could have been better
silvergirl6067 April 2006
I really don't understand a lot of these reviewers. The movie far from trivializes anything about the Nazis, it simply tries to portray a moment before the bloodiest war in history on a smallish scale.

Would it be better to just have a movie that says "Nazis are bad and they killed six million Jews."? No, because that wouldn't be a movie.

It's like when people complained that a mini-series about Hitler's life that was supposed to be shown on TV would "humanize Hitler". Well, news flash, he WAS a human. That's the worst part, a human could do that sort of thing. What good is it to call evil-doers monsters and then leave it at that? When "Swing Kids" succeeds is when it's portraying the conflicts of youth as their country goes mad. Can anyone honestly say they feel NO sympathy for those who were forced to join the Hitler youth? It's easy to say you would have done different.

And the idea that the music being key somehow trivializes the events of WWII, um, it's based on an ACTUAL subculture, swing kids. There were lots of them and at first they were fairly lacking in politics, but later in the 40s when they were cracked down on more so by the Nazis some were more active.

It's not like the movie makers pulled the concept of kids, Nazis and swing out of their asses, which is what people seem to think.

And at least it was something, at least it wasn't giving in totally. Remember these were young kids, high-school age, nobody can expect them all to be Sophie Scholl.

Where "Swing Kids" lacks is its occasional excessive heavy-handedness. The ending is a bit excessive, something more subtle would have been better.

But as I say, the conflicts between the three main leads are fantastic and bring up questions of what you would do in such circumstances. I think the boys's indifference in respect to the Jew being beat up in the beginning of the movie is a good touch. This is NOT about the holocaust, because it was just starting and was largely unknown at the time. I hate when people can't lose what they know to watch a movie.

I recommend everyone to read some swing kids history, just look them up, it makes the movie much better and more interesting to know the facts.

This is a fairly good movie with very good acting, great great music and costumes, a great story that was influenced by deeply interesting history, and too much heavy handedness.

But seriously, who can resist a movie put out by Disney that includes the line of dialog "You're turning into a f*cking Nazi!"?
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Connected with me on two levels: Swing and Judiasm
BruceUllm6 October 2004
I have always been a very big fan of swing music and am a "Hollywood Jew". I.e., not very religious or observant of the ancient traditions, but still a Jew in humor and emotions. So this movie never fails to make my tear up. To imagine a time and place where not only your seeming friends turn on you, but you can't even listen to your kind of music is a special kind of hell on earth.

The dance and music sequences are wonderful and I can't see or hear them enough. Solid sounds, daddio! However, the film wisely preempts the reverie and jerks you back to the Nazi repression each time. It suggests how those poor "Swingkleine" must have felt. The sweet and sorrowful blend here.

Someone criticized this picture for not showing enough death. I think the boxes of human ashes and the random Brownshirt raids show enough of that! This picture isn't about the Holocaust -- it's about trying to survive when your society goes seriously wrong.

I will always think of "Swing Kids" when I hear the truism: "It don' mean a thing if it ain't got that SWING. Do-wah do-wha do-wah do-wah do-wha do-wha do-wha do-WHAAAAA".
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Excellent portrayal of swing and moral struggle
nbj24 December 2003
Anyone who has stepped on to the dance floor with a live swing band playing knows just how well Swing Kids captures the electricity of a night of swing. Anyone who has strapped on their best duds an hour earlier knows knows the romance and anticipation captured perfectly as Peter Muller (Robert Sean Leonard) dresses for his last night of swing. This movie was in no small measure part of the impetus for the swing revival in the mid 90's, and I personally get "in the mood" for a night of cuttin' rug with Janis Siegel's incredible rendition of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon" from the film. But what makes this film truly superlative is its honest dealings with ordinary Germans' motivations for complacency towards or participation in Nazism. In Nazi Germany it was in everybody's best interest (save the Jews) to play along. From Peter's mother who just wants her to children live happily and avoid the terrible fate of their father to Thomas Berger (Christian Bale) who finds acceptance and encouragement for the first time, they do so for the reasons that would tempt each of us sorely. The horrible truth of the Holocaust is that, like the Germans, very few of us possess the selflessness and moral courage it would have required to oppose the evil tide of Nazism. Swing Kids is almost alone in its portrayal of this chilling truth among Holocaust and World War II films. Robert Sean Leonard's portrayal of this moral struggle for understanding and courage is very moving. (Of course, there's noone better at playing angst-ridden. c.f. Dead Poet's Society.) As he dances his last dance, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, the world spinning around him, he finds a rare kind of release that is perhaps found only on the dance floor. And yes, his brother's cries, "Swing Heil! Swing Heil!", in the final scene give me a lump in the throat every time. For all these reasons and more, Swing Kids is an excellent film.
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it is authentic enough
ivonnsche26 May 2003
i have read the comment about SWING KIDS not being authentic. well, after doing a bit of research on this topic (swing scene in germany in the third reich) i have to say that there was quite a big scene there. yes, the film might have exaggerated a bit (the hair was not quite as long and they had to cut down on the way they dressed even though they tried as much as they could on the zoot suit front). but it is a fact that there were dances in different cafes and they didnt like the Nazi regime. so i would say give the film makers some slack and a bit of artistic freedom! they tried to portray a group of youngsters that found cure in music and stuck together in a difficult time. i really appreciated this film as normally you wouldnt know about them at all!!! two thumbs up from me as well!!!
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Excellent insight on the youth in Germany...
Burgundy17 January 2000
This movie does a great job of showing a different angle on the WW2 time period. The struggles the youth of Germany went through during that time were portrayed very well. People complain that this movie doesn't show the horror of the holocaust and the awful persecution the Jews faced, but that is not what it's trying to do! We all read or hear about what the Nazis did to the Jews (& other minorities) and think that the Germans must have been horrible people to have even gone along with this. But this shows how the propaganda they were constantly fed--as well as the activities & sense of belonging the HJ (Hitler Jungen) experienced--could slowly twist their minds to the Nazi way of thinking. One of the excellent things about this movie is how it shows how the main characters change. The changes in Peter & Thomas come very slow and natural, and only when you get to the end (and maybe re-watch it) do you realize how drastically they have changed their views. (Thomas especially)

There were some not-so-great things about the movie, like some characters or scenes which, when you think back, seem to have been included for an unknown reason. But the good points of the movie out-weigh the minor nit-picks. The swing music and dancing in the movie was awesome, and I thought all the characters were acted very well by the actors. They did a good job of showing the confusion that the young Germans must have felt, not knowing who was right. All in all, I really enjoyed this movie, and I think it makes you think as well.
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Love the Movie with All My Heart!
m_a_a_n8 December 2002
One of the basic reasons I like this movie is because it was one of the first movies I watched with my older brother that we both enjoyed. I don't have a lot in common with him, but this one movie opened up lots of opportunities for other movies.

Other than that, I love this movie for its unique point of view. We always get the movies like Saving Private Ryan or Pearl Harbor, which are very important stories in themselves (and good movies of course) but how often do we get a movie about people who were part of the war from the beginning. people that didn't necessarily have a direct threat, but were still greatly affected. The story of Peter and Thomas and Arvid are wonderfully done. Peter is the kind of person any girl would like. Thomas, the rich brat that speaks his mind too much, helps put internal conflict in the group. Arvid seems to be the voice of reason, seeing what the Nazis are doing and doesn't want to be a part of it.

The acting is great, of course. Peter, played by Robert Sean Leonard, is portrayed as soft spoken, confused, and even a little bitter. Thomas, played by the beautiful Christian Bale, is the kind of people that drive me nuts - just "go along with it. We can have it both ways." It is virtually impossible to have it "both ways." The guy who plays Arvid is a lovely actor, obviously talented, and shows emotion so well you'd think he went through this himself. The history of the movie might be a little tweaked to make a few interesting scenes, but to see what the Nazis were doing to the youth of their country, brainwashing them and telling them to spy on people, is appalling. No wonder a few former Nazi soldiers still think they were right.

The music is like a whole nother character. This movie is what really got me to enjoy listening to swing music. Even though I can do very few steps, I realize now the feeling they got when they heard it and I get the same feeling, just not quite as strong probably.

All around, this movie is wonderful. I love showing it to my friends, and it is very interesting and jerks at your emotions.
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Uneven, but powerful
Tin Man-511 November 1999
Four German teenage boys (Leonard, Bale, Whaley, and Batrok), living under Nazy reign in World War II, secretly play Swing music, American stuff that's been forbidden, and embrace the concepts of the musical heritage. But this is clearly an act of rebellion, so they must do it in secret clubs at night, avoiding the Gestapo. Their relationships and the outcomes are the study of this film, which is both uneven and, ultimately, very powerful.

Roger Ebert detested this film for the fact that, to him, is unclear in it's message. He feels that the motives behind these teen's rebellion are stupid: It seems as if Hitler hadn't banned Swing music, then they would have thought that he was a swell guy.

Actually, this observation on Mr. Ebert's behalf might be the film's point. They thought Hitler was a loser because of he didn't let them play their music. Through this fact, they learn that there is a much bigger problem here, and they know that they can't conform to it. So how do they rebell? Through the music that they cherish.

Along the way, two of the boys, Leonard and Bale, are forced to join the Gestapo. Leonard doesn't embrace the teachings, but Bale is slowly brainwashed into conforming. Whaley is a cripple, and he therefore observes the Nazis from a different position. He soon begins to despise his two friends for their uniforms. While his character might be an arrogant jerk, it is clear that he's got a better idea about the evil that's going on than anyone else. Bartok is just sort of along for the ride, just wanting to hang out with his friends and play in his music...oblivious to what happens with the Jews or Nazis.

So here we have four chief characters that pretty much represent probably the most basic attitudes of German citizens during the war: Brainwashed, aware, torn in between, and indifferent. The characters are well acted, and the balance and chemisty between them work. The message at the end is very clear and VERY powerful....I am often reminded of its subtle excellence, though I haven't seen it in a good while.

Unfortunately, the film itself is uneven. Almost too much time is spent on the swing music itself. So much that it takes away from the message of the film. The music should have only served as a backdrop, and endless scenes of dancing almost threaten to take away from the impact of the theme. "Almost" is the key word. All in all, this is a most intriguing film. Kenneth Branagh appears unbilled, as a central Gestapo character.

*** out of ****
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Following: The Greatest Evil
Boodikka16 August 2001
In reading the reviews, there appears to be some disbelief that the Nazis saw the "Swing" movement as any real threat. In Peter Profield's excellent 1991 Himmler biography, he makes it quite clear that the official party line was that "Swing" was a subversive evil, as much as any White Rose activity. As for inconsistencies in Bale's character, understand that he is merely a "joiner". When the Swing Kids seem like the trend, he's into them. When the Jugeund seem like the better trend, that's what he wants to do.....typically adolescent.
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Some people have obviously missed the point of this movie
Adaleide31 January 1999
Ok for you people who refer to all the Germans as "worthless human beings" and talk about how this movie didn't focus on the holocaust, etc....WAKE UP! The point of this movie was to give another perspective on the war. Not all Germans were souless killers. Throughout the movie you could see the consciences of the main characters being pushed and pulled about what was happening. Over here in Western culture, everything is portrayed in black and white: all the Germans were completely evil, and we were the good ones. No one is denying that the Germans committed some horrific atrocities, but there were some who resisted doing those crimes, and others who actually believed that they were morally in the right because of centuries of ingrained anti-semitism. Geez, North America was anti-semitic then too! Swing Kids looks at Germany from the inside, and the different forces that were at work. Everyone knows what happened during the Holocaust....this movie wasn't about that. I think people should look at all different viewpoints before classifying all the people in a certain group (ie all of the German nation) into one cubbyhole of evil.
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Very emotional movie
jzcalguy10 October 2013
I've read some of the reviews and feel I need to give a history lesson to some of them. This was 1938-1939. The Nazis hadn't gone berzerk with the killing of Jews and Gypsys etc. They may have been doing it in secret, but it wasn't common knowledge. That being said, the attempts to "cleanse" their society was indeed in full swing. *pardon the pun. They wanted nothing to do with outside influence, the training of the next generation was Hitler's plan. The HJ were to be the next generation of leaders, policemen, and general authority figures.

Youth will rebel, it seems they always do to some degree. That's what these kids were doing. The movie is a very small view of what was going on. It's not the big picture.... it's basically Peter's struggle with who he is, who his father was, and his immediate environment. You can't really say the movie isn't accurate, because none of you is Peter.

I love the movie. I love the music and the heart Peter puts into it. He loves the music... as he loved his father. And the Nazis tried to take both of them.
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Just one thing...
italiansrfrgirl29 January 2006
Say what you will about this film - say it's boring, say it's the greatest film of all time, say it was mediocre, say it was awful - i mean it, say WHATEVER you want (after all, we are, every last one one of us, entitled to our opinions); But know this one absolute fact: the very last scene in this film makes this movie great. If you couldn't stand the movie, when you get to the end, you're thinking, "I wasn't gypped". & if you loved it, when you get to the end, you're thinking,"Just when I thought it couldn't get any better...". Perhaps you find me silly or melodramatic, but it would be morally wrong for me not to send out this information into the universe. So, Robert Sean Leonard's "last dance", so to speak, is cinematic genius, film history, an honor to watch. Thank God beauty still exists in our menial lives.
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This film deserves A LOT more attention
shneur16 July 2005
This was a real eye-opener! Even to old fogies like me, "Swing" is associated with being the music of our PARENTS. In "Swing Kids" we see it being very much the Rock'n'Roll of the 30's, with all the attendant counter-culture and generational rebellion elements that implies. When you add to that the setting of the film in the ascendant days of Nazism in Germany, the contrast is both amplified and rendered a much more serous business than just adolescent highjinks. I suppose when you strip away everything else, this is a "loss of innocence" movie, but that doesn't do justice to its meticulous production values, uniformly excellent acting, or tight scripting and direction. If the theme is old, the angle is new and very apropos: I was enrapt from beginning to end. (Look for Noah Wyle just before he became a medical student on ER!)
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Poignant and Thought Provoking
deanne7928 March 2004
I don't know how anyone can watch this movie and say it's not a good film. There are so many elements that make it great. I fell in love with this movie in 1993 when I was only 13 years old and it has been one of my all time favorites ever since. I think all actors (especially Robert Sean Leonard)did an amazing acting job. I think it is important to see different aspects of WWII and this is a unique perspective--showing how many Germans were not all of Hitlers mentality but even if they weren't in the beginning it is important to see how his brainwashing tactics eventually affected even the youngest of Germans. Anyway, I think this is an under rated film.
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Swing Heil!
voltumna13 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers

I can honestly say that no movie has ever moved me in the same way that this one has. We watched it in history class, and at the beginning my friends and I, who didn't know what swing kids were, thought that the title sounded somewhat jazzy and lighthearted.

How wrong we were. As the movie changed from the story of three teenage friends to the story of the choices every person in the nation had to make, we were all utterly captivated. True, I go to an all-girls school, and so the presence of Christian Bale probably didn't hurt our liking of the movie. But it wasn't just that.

The story, set in the late 1930's, is about the "Swing Kids" movement in the youth at the time that Hitler was gaining power and Germany was becoming more and more fascist. Fascism was all about conformity, being the same everyone else and putting the state in front of yourself. Swing dancing was and still is clearly about being an individual, and as a result, the swing clubs were slowly being banned. The swing kids remained defiant, even making up their own mockery of the Nazi salute: "Swing Heil!"


Each progressive scene at the Cafe Bismarck gets worse. The first shows a happy evening, the second a close call, the third the official closing of the club, and the last is the end of the movie.


The movie focuses on three teenage guys, Peter, Thomas, and Arvid. As the movie progresses, it's clear that the three are all searching for something. Thomas, who has a cold relationship with his father, is looking for acceptance. Peter, whose father mysteriously disappeared, returned home, and died, is looking for answers. And Arvid, a cripple who plays the guitar, is looking for a way out of a society that is beginning to sicken him.

The rest of the movie is about the choices that each one makes as the fascist society progresses around them and forces them to decide what stance they want to take.


When Peter attempts to steal a radio for his friend Arvid, he is given an unofficial ultimatum--join the HJ (Hitler Youth) or your mother and younger brother will be in danger. When Peter joins, Thomas joins too, saying that he did it because of his friendship with Peter and says that they can be HJ by day and swing kids by night.


Throughout the movie, it is clear that the three friends are drawing apart, and in the end, each makes a different choice, finding in that choice what they were looking for in the beginning.

The entire movie, while maybe not entirely historically accurate, is still an amazing film. The swing music played in it is not just an element of the background, it sends its own message. The acting is mostly flawless--my only minor point is that Emil, the HJ leader, is not very convincing. But what makes the movie really work is the powerful emotions drawn out of the viewer--happiness, despair, horror, hope, betrayal. It's the only movie that has ever made me cry.

As my history teacher said, "In many ways, the movie is somewhat cushioned. It only shows a small part of the time period and in some ways isn't incredibly historically accurate. But it's incredibly personal, and that's what gets you." An excellent movie, 10 out of 10. Words simply fail me.
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u fool
pinkcandy14 April 2004
swing kids is an excellent movie. it does capture the swing mentality well. It wasn't about the jewish. it was about not being a nazi. they weren't jewish. they were from upper middle-class families and rebelled against their fathers. and this is what the movie is about. rebellion against your relatives, family, ppl you would normally follow, love, your father ( so to place him in the role of the nazi is a well thought out decision)

And the music, the most important thing. Most importantly not letting anyone tell you not to dance and listen to the music you like. i recommend this movie!!!
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Strangulation Of Culture
bkoganbing7 March 2008
I do love swing music and love the music and artists from the era. So did my parents who were contemporary with it. But they had the good fortune to love it in the USA. It was a dangerous thing to like Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and most of all Arthur Shawronsky who the authorities did know was Artie Shaw. But these squares were the Gestapo and Swing Kids is about the youth who loved American swing music at considerable cost.

Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale, Frank Whaley are three friends who are into American swing at a time in their country when such "jungle" music was Verboten. Swing Kids is the story about how all three were dealing with the growing strangulation of culture. One of the opening scenes takes place at a forbidden swing club where the kids are cutting a rug to Benny Goodman when word comes the authorities are near. Without a beat the band turns into a typical German Oompah band, the kind of music Herr Schicklgruber deemed acceptable to German youth.

Which was being swallowed up by the Hitler Youth and the social pressures to join are enormous. Something that we in this country cannot fathom. I'm not a big fan of the current Pope, but about the only thing I'll give Benedict XVI a pass on was joining the Hitler Youth. At a certain point the wiggle room got less and less.

Barbara Hershey as Leonard's mother gives a good performance as a woman keeping company with a Gestapo official for a little more comfort. Her husband and Leonard and David Tom's father had been arrested by the Gestapo a few years back and died as a result of their custody. The Gestapo official is played by an unbilled Kenneth Branagh who took no billing for his part deliberately.

Swing Kids has a timely lesson for today if some in federal authority will care to learn it. The fundamentalist Moslems just as the Nazis hate our decadent culture. The answer is keep importing it into places like Iran by the cargo ship load. Don't bomb them to death, just send them our music and films.

By the way our own fundamentalist Christians hated that music as they hate the music of today. Something about authoritarianism of whatever stripe just hates contemporary culture, whatever it is at the time.

Swing Kids is a valuable lesson about freedom of expression wrapped up in a good entertaining package.
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This movie is super-mergentroid!
SwingKid-230 October 1998
Oh my god.

That's all I have to say.

This movie is up there with countless others as great Nazi Germany/www2 movies. It's so heartfelt and beautiful that I was crying buckets throughout the whole thing. It feels like an Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except it really happened. Robert Sean Leonard is one of the most brilliant actors in the world, even though he's highly under-rated. Esspecially check out the dance scenes, unlike other swing movies, this one seems far less choreographed and pre-planned, it gives the film spontaneity. My favorite scene though is at the end when Willy's saying good-bye to Peter screaming "Swing Heil, Peter! Swing Heil!" I just lost it.

So for the love of God, please see this movie which is staggering in brilliance. It's super-mergentroid!
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Outstanding portrait of an era, and coming of age.
Toad--2 September 1999
To BarryB-4: You couldn't have missed the point by a wider area.

The swing music and dancing is not the point of this movie. This could just as easily have taken place in the 50s in America, with Rock n Roll as the backdrop.

What it was about to me, was the dehumanizing process of fascism, and how blindly following a leader or a movement can turn an otherwise well-balanced, even likable individual (Thomas) into something terrible, and make them do things they would otherwise never do.

The German people of that era are demonized too often. It's easy to say "I'd never go along with that!" but the fact is that it was not that simple for most Germans, especially as it progressed into the war, and like an avalanche, it got bigger and more powerful and destructive. By the end, it was go along, or be sent away or possibly killed, and the movie portrays this pressure masterfully.

The sacrifice made was not for the music itself, but rather for the freedom to enjoy it. In fact, I think that Arvid's comment, "Nobody who likes swing could ever become a nazi" and what follows illustrates that it's not the music that was the most important thing. The music was an excellent rallying point, but it's the people and their energy that make a movement.
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A Subset of a Much Bigger Subject That Made a Good Story
D_Burke17 May 2010
"Swing Kids" underperformed at the box office, received bad reviews, but today maintains a cult following. Reading the reviews from the film's 1993 release, critics seemed to be ticked off mostly by the fact that the film depicted a seemingly trivial demographic in a horrific time and place. Their argument was understandable: if such mass genocide and political corruption was taking place, why would we want to know about German teenagers who were obsessed with American swing music? My question is, why would we NOT want to know about them?

Had "Swing Kids" been released some time after Steven Spielberg's epic "Schindler's List", critics may not have been quick to bring up that point. However, "Cabaret" (1972) was also about Berlin counterculture amidst the rise of the Nazi party, and no one seemed to have a problem with that film.

"Swing Kids" is by no means a perfect film, but it also shouldn't be dismissed specifically because it doesn't take place in a concentration camp, and no one can be seen being tortured or killed. It's a small footnote, but by no means an uninteresting story.

The movie centers around Peter Muller (Robert Sean Leonard, who I couldn't help but think bore a striking resemblance to Jim Carrey in this movie), a German student barely out of his teens who, along with his friends Thomas (Christian Bale) and Arvid (Frank Whaley), love to stay out late and dance to big band swing music. They wear their hair long, own zoot suits, and are rebellious against the Nazis at first for rebellion's sake. They don't seem to be phased by the Nazi's propaganda against the Jews and other ethnicities until later in the film, although that point is not clarified well in the beginning.

Peter reluctantly joins the Nazis when his mother's significant other, Herr Major Knopp (Kenneth Branagh), pulls some strings after Peter's arrest involving a stolen radio. His other option is to be sent to jail, or perhaps even a concentration camp. Thomas enlists as well just to join Peter, but they ultimately don't give up their night life of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. However, the more Peter learns about the Nazis, the more he hates them. Thomas, on the other hand, falls into the Nazi propaganda over time.

The overall story is told pretty well here. Robert Sean Leonard is good as the moral compass of the story. Nowadays, I'm used to seeing Christian Bale in either villainous roles ("American Psycho" (2000), "The Prestige" (2006)), or as heroes with a noticeable dark side ("The Dark Knight" (2008), "Terminator: Salvation" (2009)). However, here Bale plays a guy who is a genuinely good friend at first, and his good acting made me forget about his later roles. At the same time, when his character becomes entrenched in the Nazi life, Bale somehow made this dramatic transition smoothly without seeming contrived.

Frank Whaley is also effective as the crippled friend Arvid, who can't join the Nazi army even if he wanted to because of his condition. Arvid plays jazz guitar, and knows a lot about American jazz. He is frequently bullied and beaten by Nazi soldiers his age, but still has energy to rebel. Whereas Leonard is the moral compass here, Whaley is the heart. I can't give away what happens to Arvid in this movie, but you really do feel for him as the movie progresses.

"Swing Kids" has a very good story, and characters good and bad that you really care about. Among the major weaknesses in this movie is the fact that it takes place entirely in Germany, yet none of the characters actually speak German. Normally that fact would not be a problem, but my issue was that the good guys here spoke with either American or British accents, whereas the villains (such as Branaugh) spoke with a heavy German accent. It's as if Hollywood hasn't gotten over the idea that German or Russian accents sound evil, even long after World War II and the Cold War ended. In this story, it goes without saying that accents shouldn't matter.

This is why I think the movie would have worked better as a foreign film made by Germans, rather than an American film made by the Disney company. If everyone was speaking German, allegedly evil accents wouldn't be an issue. On the other hand, "Cabaret" had good guys in it that had German accents. Why couldn't this film?

Also, perhaps I'm asking too much here, but the written epilogue at the end wasn't enough for me. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, not every film that takes place during World War II has to be dark and depressing, but it would have been nice to have received a glimpse of what these swing kids went through in concentration camps, how they coped, and whether they got out alive or not. Maybe such a broad subject could still be the basis for another movie, but just two written sentences before the credits broke the Golden Rule of Storytelling: Show, Don't Tell.

This film would have benefited from being shelved for at least a year, and perhaps being released a little while after "Schindler's List" made its run. Compared to concentration camps, young men in Germany who loved American music seems insignificant in comparison, but by no means does it discredit the alternative history lesson from being told. Critics could have been more open-minded to the movie, but the good thing is that the film now has a cult following. It still nags me that the film wasn't in German, though. At least it has historical accuracy on its side.
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Beautiful and Inspirational
czarinaanya6 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this movie for the first time last night. A History buff, I had never heard about the "swing kids" movement in Germany, but when my friend handed me the DVD at the library and I read the back, I instantly saw that this film could be right up my alley.

I also must confess...I'm a big Robert Sean Leonard fan. I was introduced to him in House, and also love "Much Ado." I saw Dead Poet's society but was very disappointed in the ending, because I felt RSL's "suicide" ruined the whole story.

Anyway.. I was not disappointed in this movie. I loved watching the dance scenes, I loved the slow development of Leonard's character.. I loved the struggles, the very human struggle between survival and standing up for what you believe in.

I don't know what else to say, I just loved the story. It inspired me. The ending made me choke up.

Beautiful, Inspirational story..
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A Thought Provoking Tale of Friendship, Honor, and Loyalty that got overlooked.
EveySK30 July 2002
Swing Kids tells the story of Peter, Thomas, and Arvid (played wonderfully by Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale, and Frank Whaley respectively). They all live a carefree life fueled by the American swing music of the late 1930s. But living in Germany in 1938, these boys see the change that is coming and it is Hitler's reign that first tears them apart. Peter is caught by Hitler's military police when he attempts to steal a radio for Arvid and he is thenforced to join the Hitler Youth. Thomas joins so that his friend will not have to go through it alone. They go along with the HJ way of life during the day, while still living it up in the illegal swing clubs at night until Thomas falls victim to the HJ ways and starts believing in Hitler's ways causing conflict among the boys. Arvid's loyalties do not lie with Germany and stronly opposses the Hitler way of life. Peter must decide what he believes in and come to terms with the death of his father at the hands of the government six years prior to the story. I would like to say it has a happy ending, but any story about the rise of the Nazi's in Germany can not fully end on a happy note. It is an educational film that should be examined and studied by those who want to fully understand what really happened in Germany and learn the untold story of the few who oppossed.
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halle9525 November 2001
Rented this video because I like 1930's history and the drama of the story made my heart race as the characters had to decide their loyalties. As German youths are swept into the Nazi frenzy, they are forced to interpret, as an individual, what is humane and what is not, or forced to accept the Nazi ways just to survive. In the beginning the swing music is something fun and exciting, but through til the climax, it is the swing music that expresses an individual repulsion and rebellion against the Nazi mindset. A real character study of family and friendship loyalties in a time of extreme crisis.
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Swing Heil!
ponine66623 August 2001
This is one of my all time favorite movies! The music and dancing is great. And the story is too. One of the main reasons it got a bad review is because it didn't really say anything about the sufferings of the Jews. Hello people this movie isn't about the Jews it's about the swing kids and the everyday people and what they went through, and the desisions they had to make while dealing with the Nazi rule. Go along and not get hurt, Or rebel and be persecuted. Arvid Is Awesome!!! I still cry everytime I see this movie. You have to see it!
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