Finding the city of New York a vulgar place, Oscar Angulo kept his six sons and one daughter locked in their cramped Lower East Side apartment, ostensibly to protect them. They'd get out once or twice a year, but were otherwise sequestered, being schooled by their mother, Susan – a Midwestern hippy who met Oscar while visiting Machu Picchu – and by the over 5, 000 movies their father brought home to them.
The strict isolation and contradictory education of the Angulo kids is the subject of Crystal Moselle's documentary, The Wolfpack. Noticing the group of boys roaming through her neighbourhood, all dressed like Tarantino-ish hitmen, she approached them and eventually established a rapport over a shared love of cinema. A short while before their meeting, one of the brothers had managed to escape from the apartment, though did so dressed in a homemade Michael Meyers mask, which lead to a quick arrest. But that one instance of escape was enough, and the Angulo kids were now free to come and go as they pleased. Warming to Moselle, they brought her to their apartment and shared with her their huge homemade movie archive. In all those years trapped at home, they'd passed their time remaking their favourite features, transcribing the scripts, fashioning the costumes from old yoga mats, acting out and filming the scenes. For the documentarian, it was a windfall; for the Angulo boys, the chance encounter seems like not just a means of sharing their story, but of screening their body of work.
As a documentary in a post-Capturing the Friedmans world, The Wolfpack might be frustratingly respectful for some viewers. Moselle and her camera are visitors, not investigators or interrogators. The viscera of the Angulos' upbringing is hinted at, but never exposed; the psychology of their mother and father glimpsed, but not caught; the logic of a man chronically weary of a poisonous culture while also allowing in such a wealth of that culture's entertainment remains confounding. The boys themselves, and their relationship to one another and to cinema, stays the focus.
It's apropos that Quentin Tarantino is the filmmaker most looked up to and most emulated by the Angulo boys. Tarantino made and still makes movies that are primarily about movies. The movies the boys themselves make are – based on what's seen in the documentary – direct copies of their favourites. Replication is their stated directive. But how different is their Be Kind Rewind-style emulation from, say, Tarantino's thorough boosting of the 1987 Hong Kong crime flick City on Fire in his first feature, Reservoir Dogs? (A handy comparison of which can be found HERE.) Seeing the Angulo boys sitting cross-legged in front of the undulating light of their TV, it's easy to picture a young Tarantino in a similar pose of reception and devotion. The point to make is that what Tarantino, considered an auteur, brings to his art is his unique experience with other art. As young creators, are the Angulos, in their own unique circumstances, milling with less grist than any other artists who lock themselves up and wolf movies?
Nearly every reviewer of the doc notes how well adjusted the Angulo pack are, all things considered. These are not feral children, or Kaspar Hausers, but seemingly socialized kids; they're smart and charming and, when together, exude a great deal of swagger and confidence. They're also profoundly productive. With little detail of their actual upbringing, it's hard to make too many assumptions about the conditions of their rearing. But as much as the surface details are exceptional, there's something to their forced, entertainment-rich seclusion that feels familiar, comparable to a larger cultural movement towards reclusion, towards experiencing the world primarily through media and entertainment. By trying to protect his kids from a destructive American experience, Oscar inadvertently created the perfect condition for another one.
Culturalization is lately seeming as, if not more, important as socialization. Heaven help you if you're at a dinner party and you haven't seen The Wire, or if you work in an office and you've never seen The Office. Staying indoors and consuming entertainment is establishing itself as the norm. At the end of The Wolfpack, I couldn't help but wonder what, if any, deficit the Angulos, as both creators and people, really will suffer as they carry on into a world where everyone else seems to be staying home.