It's arguable that to be born in the ghetto is to be damned to a life of mischief and crime. Lofty Nathan's first documentary, 12 O'Clock Boys, explores how much one's interests are affected by his environment. Following a 13-year-old named Pug, Nathan shows us a world that Baltimore outsiders are unaccustomed to seeing. Promotional poster for 12 O'Clock Boys

On Baltimore's Westside, the 12 O'Clock Boys have established their domain. While all of them are decidedly young, the factions of prepubescent aspirants run together in packs. Nathan, who first discovered his subject while attending the Maryland Institute College of Art, takes a hands-off approach to documenting Pug's involvement in the gang, asking him no more than a few questions at the end of the film. Perhaps the laissez-faire vibe is intentional on Nathan's part, serving to mirror the indifference of the 12 O'Clock Boys to everything except the glory of riding.

Pug, the central subject of Nathan's documentary

As noted by one of the interviewees of 12 O'Clock Boys, "You'll learn the right way to do all the wrong shit in Baltimore City. You'll get a PhD in it." With this in mind, watching Pug interact with his family is telling of his motivations in wanting to escape to a life spent risking arrest for the thrill of hitting the 12 o'clock point on his bike--that instant where the front of it is completely aligned with the back wheel's ground point. In his mind, there is no greater achievement--every authority figure has set him up to think that way. Granted, there is one mention about the importance of school, but it's fleeting and instantly dismissed by Pug, who seems to know underneath it all that his opportunities are few and far between.

Hitting the 12 o'clock mark on their bikes earned the gang their name

Tracing Pug's progress as a wannabe 12 O'Clock Boy for three years, we see the shift in him from semi-sweet to completely hardened. The concluding scene shows him detachedly eating chicken and talking about his plans to steal his bike back from someone who swiped it. His focus on this goal comes across as rote, rather than passionate--as though his bike is all he really has now (it's almost De Sica-esque).