Standing By Yourself

There's too much missing from Josh Koury's documentary Standing By Yourself to call it a great film, but it contains some undeniably riveting, visceral moments. Shot on video and Super 8 by Koury as his Pratt Art Institute senior-thesis project, Standing By Yourself consists of almost microscopically short takes of the director's 16-year-old brother Adam and Adam's punker friend Josh Siegfried as they try to find something to do in the small town of Clinton, New York. Bored and antisocial, the duo and a couple of hangers-on hit up their divorced moms for money and then cruise the malls, pharmacies, and alleys of Clinton, profanely threatening each other with violence while getting high on cheap liquor, cough medicine, and prescription drugs, all stolen. Koury cuts quickly between shots, and often lets the screen go black for long stretches while the audio plays on, or lets the audio from one location overlap into footage from another. The effect is dizzying, especially since Koury's handheld camera whips back and forth from person to person in such a way that it's impossible to tell whether there's a cameraman there at all, or if the equipment is just dangling from the strap of one of the kids' backpacks. Standing By Yourself was shot over the course of a year, as the slightly upper-middle-class Adam and the slightly lower-middle-class Siegfried begin to drift apart. The director's brother is clearly a smart kid acting wild, whereas Siegfried appears far more desperate and lonely. Halfway through the film, the latter has such an adverse reaction to the cough syrup he's been guzzling that he spends most of the night searching for a public restroom in which to throw up. (Giving up, he vomits in the street.) By the end, he's taking drugs less for the idle thrills than for their power to numb; asked by Adam how much Coricidin he should take for a buzz, a Ritalin-dosed Siegfried mumbles, "I think like eight... eight or twelve." Standing By Yourself is a structural mess—there's little sense of time passing, and it ends with a shrug, as though Koury were afraid to make any definitive comment—but the disjointed scenes have a horrifying split sense of inevitability and unpredictability. And though Koury doesn't indict himself directly enough for his own voyeurism in watching his brother abuse himself, the hands-off approach leads to a naturalism so stark and startling that it practically induces nausea.

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