The Wolfpack tells the tale of New York parents who refused to let their seven children venture outside — ever.
tells the tale of New York parents who refused to let their seven children venture outside — ever.

What happens when you sequester yourself in a Lower East Side apartment for the better part of 20 years and raise your family of seven (six sons, one daughter) on a steady diet of home schooling, movies and rock music? Why, you get The Wolfpack, of course, an amazing documentary opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, June 19.

Brought up by parents who found themselves living in a Manhattan housing project when they probably would have preferred a commune or a kibbutz, the Angulo siblings spent their formative years indoors. Some years, they might leave home once or twice – under strict supervision, of course. Some years, they never left at all.

So what did they do when Mom Susanne wasn’t teaching them reading, writing, and arithmetic? Why, spent their time watching lots and lots of movies — and, later on, spent copious time recreating those movies. So intense was their love affair with film that the boys would literally write down every word of dialogue, memorize this unofficial ‘script’, and reenact the story (complete with costumes and props), all within the narrow confines of their apartment.

Father Oscar Angulo’s obsessive desire to protect his family from bad guys he imagined lurked on every Manhattan street corner apparently ended at the front door. A huge movie lover himself, he counterintuitively had no problem exposing his kids to the Hollywood violence of films such as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, and Batman.

The issue isn’t addressed in The Wolfpack, but Oscar clearly had no time for theories suggesting that pop culture violence might have a malign influence on young minds. His children (all given Sanskrit names by their Krishna-devoted parents, and all forbidden to cut their hair) remained — and remain — remarkably well adjusted youngsters.

Adolescence, however, took its natural course, and as the boys became teenagers their desire for at least a modicum of independence became impossible to resist. In January 2010, eldest brother Bhagavan summoned up sufficient courage to sneak out of the apartment on his own. Wearing a mask in order to conceal his identity, he was eventually detained by the police and temporarily hospitalized before being returned to his parents’ care.

Pandora’s Box was now well and truly open, and eventually the boys began taking group outings together. Filmmaker Crystal Moselle ran into the sextet on the streets of the Big Apple during one of their outings, and was struck by their distinctive appearance: dressed in suits, ties, and sunglasses, the six brothers looked like they could have stepped right out of Reservoir Dogs or Goodfellas.

Already being compared to the Maysles’ Brothers classic Grey Gardens (1975) — another film about a most unusual New York family — The Wolfpack may not have you reconsidering your own child-raising methods, but it certainly suggests your kids will turn out all right if you leave them in care of the electronic babysitter. Just make sure they have a good selection of DVDs to choose from.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...