Director: Tom Kalin
Screenwriters: Tom Kalin

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


Moving from art video to the feature film, newcomer Tom Kalin has designed a work that’s shocking in subject matter and atmospheric in style. Swoon tells the story of Nathan “Babe” Leopold, Jr., and Richard “Dicky” Loeb, the pair of teenage Jewish intellectuals immortalized in 1924 when they kidnapped and murdered a young boy in a ransom hoax. Raised in wealth in Chicago, Leopold and Loeb created a secret world in which criminal and homosexual acts became the interchangeable tokens of an erotically charged relationship. Amateurs despite their dreams of mastery, the two were easily caught and sensationally tried.

Mixing the techniques of suspense drama with those of police procedurals and prison movies, Swoon employs a camera that is a black-and-white microscope, probing with self-conscious awareness the facts and circumstances leading up to and away from the murder. From bird-watching to bloodletting, Kalin insinuates the tenor of the times—whether then or now—into his tale. Periodicity turns postmodern when Kalin combines televisions and 1920s automobiles. At the same time, he recreates the original period with exceptional economy, relying on the audience’s own perspectives and fantasies to deepen the plot. Archival footage interrupts staged tableaux, and courtroom testimony alternates with vérité vernacular to create an atmosphere of compulsion and consequence. Portrayed in court as depraved, Leopold and Loeb paradoxically became heroes to the public.

Last year Poison and Paris Is Burning championed the arrival of a new, proud, gay cinema. Now post-The Silence of the Lambs, and post-Jeffrey Dahmer, Tom Kalin dares to look into the dark side of another mirror, exploring that place where identity and pathology meet, in life as in film (after all, Leopold and Loeb also inspired Hitchcock’s Rope).

— B. Ruby Rich

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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