Todd Graff’s Camp

“A flawed movie about flawed characters,” as one reviewer put it. But that’s OK; even flawed movies can be worth watching, if you’re willing to focus on the positives rather than the negatives. This film from 2003 is definitely one of those that are worth watching, with plenty more positives than negatives.

One reason it spoke to me is that it helped me realize why the “theater kids” have always felt special to me. Even in my first year at Weston I noticed that there were a few students who would start up conversations with me even though they didn’t know me at all — and it turned out that they were all in the Theater Company. This was despite the fact that I had (and have) absolutely no direct involvement with high school theater, other than attending at least one performance of every production.

Camp is a fictional drama about a real performing arts camp (Stagedoor Manor in slightly upstate New York), thinly disguised by giving it a new name but actually filmed there. The actors really look like real teenagers — unusual in the movie and television worlds. Some of them can actually act and sing (a couple of them sing beautifully), but even the others just make it more real. There’s even a cameo by Stephen Sondheim playing himself!

Rather than review this film myself, I’m going to “review the reviewers” by quoting and commenting on fragments of several IMDb posts:

Reviewer A:

Camp truly loves these kids that it portrays and is clearly made for such kids. Other reviewers have faulted “Camp” for its shallow plot, the inconsistency of its characters, the stereotypes, and an overall amateurish quality. All I can say is “What’d you expect? It’s a teen drama!” In fact, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have worked if the film tried to be more grown-up. To properly enjoy “Camp”, adult viewers need to recall their world view during their teen years. Only then can they realize how much they would have wanted to see a movie like this when they were teens. Of course, if you were a quarterback or prom queen in high school, then perhaps you wouldn’t be able to relate to this movie at all.

Yes indeed. Couldn’t have said it better myself… which is why I didn’t try.

Reviewer B:

SPOILERS EVERYWHERE!!! The most amazing thing about this film is that Steven Sondheim actually agreed to play himself in it. You’d think he had better taste.

Let me guess. Reviewer B, you’re not a teacher.

Camp is really one of the most unprofessional films I have seen in a long time (except perhaps for the musicians).

First of all, the sets look like they were made on the lowest of budgets.

So what? It’s a summer camp! What summer camp do you know that looks like a professional Hollywood production?

Second, it was totally clichéd and you could figure out where it was going looooong before it got there. There was almost nothing in it that was original…we have seen it all before and much better done.

Again, you’re not a teacher. We don’t reject something just because it has been done before — maybe better but certainly differently.

Third… it is an insult to our intelligence. Three gay guys and a straight share the same bunkhouse and the straight doesn’t feel even a little uncomfortable? At almost the end of the film the straight guy takes off his shirt and the gay guy gets all hot and bothered…ummmm…if they share the same bunkhouse, wouldn’t he have already seen it weeks ago? The rich beautiful girl just drops her bags and the other girl picks them up and becomes her slave? Pul-leeze! Also, how does she end up getting a bunkhouse with a bed that looks like it should have been Mae West’s? How come she isn’t sharing a bunkhouse like all the other girls? The acting was pretty low par…I barely believed any of them except maybe the black kid who complained about playing white parts in the plays…But then again, I guess it is hard to make cardboard characters come to life, so I guess it isn’t the kids’ fault if the acting comes across as less than acceptable.

Need I go on? This whole thing comes across as a TV sitcom that would have been acceptable in the 1950’s but would have been considered as not sophisticated enough for a ten year old by today’s standards.


Oh, and, for a film that is supposed to be gay positive, how come the main character is the only straight boy in the entire movie? We see three girls and one gay boy all having crushes on Mr Hetero… but none of the gay boys gets a chance to have a boyfriend. Why not? It would have livened things up a bit to have at least an attempt at equality. Or aren’t gay romances (that aren’t doomed) acceptable for the straight market?

You’ve pushed one of my buttons here. I’m always irritated by people who review a movie (or play, or novel, or whatever) and complain that it isn’t some other movie (or play, or novel, or whatever). If you want it to be something other than what it is, write your own. Judge a work by how well it fills its own intentions, not yours.

Reviewer C:

Probably the most horrible thing about the film was that there was no supervision of the handful of campers. In fact the only adults at the camp seemed to be two staff members, three instructors, and five musicians, none of whom ever appear as the campers run around all night, take off their clothes, make out, and have sex. And while I know, having attended and been a counselor at a camp like this, there are many real campers who have gotten away with such things and more, these particular campers seem carefree and careless about what they do; they don’t have to sneak around or take any caution in their activities. In fact there are no consequences for anybody, whether they be drunkard counselors or campers trying, literally, to murder one another. Besides the obvious reasons this might be a problem, the no-holds-barred attitude of the campers kills any tension or intrigue in the campers revels.

The film isn’t a documentary, Reviewer C. It’s a standard convention that if you’re writing about teens in a camp or school or elsewhere, you write about teens, not about the adults.


Categories: Movies & (occasionally) TV, Teaching & Learning, Weston