There were children and then there were adults. That is until the in-between stage, the teenager, appeared. Directed by Matt Wolf and based on the book ‘Teenage: The Creation of Youth: 1875-1945’ by Jon Savage, the film combines archive footage, new recreated and re-enacted footage, a score by Bradford Cox and multiple voiceovers to form what was termed by the filmmakers a “living collage” that draws the viewer in while sharing lots of information about the pre-history and the beginning of youth culture that is often unexplored.
The voiceover script mostly uses real quotes from contemporary teenagers with some original footage to weave them together. The script is delivered primarily by four actors representing the youth of America, England and Germany. The film uses an impressive amount of archive footage while its recreations are principally used to tell the stories of specific characters; a self-destructive English girl, a German swing kid with a rebellious streak, an African-American boy scout and an enthusiastic Nazi. By using these realistic and vivid characters rather than monologues from adult experts talking about youth, the film allows the audience to emotionally connect.
Teenage makes the point that youth culture began in America, and there are two American voices narrating the film. Combined with one narrator for each England and Germany, the film gives focus to the three countries and shows how youth culture spread across the globe. By showing the worldwide reach of the concept of the teenager, the film is granted a powerful scope. It never shies away from darkness – covering the abolition of child labour, racial tensions in America, the effects of both World Wars, the rise of Nazism and the Hitler youth and the sad fate of those who defied the Nazi regime. The multiple narrators help with the range of experiences the film attempts to cover, although having such a wide field likely means it is a somewhat compressed view of things; many of the things that are only briefly touched on likely could have supported a full documentary of their own.
The films editing, score and “collage” style bring it together as a stylish, informative and overall enjoyable experience. The film played at the BFI London Film Festival and Soda Pictures has plans to release it next year. Look out for Teenage when they do.