FILM: Teenage


Elizabeth Raiss as a 1940s Teenager.Surprising fact: Teenagers didn’t always exist. In this collection of rare archival material, filmed portraits, and voices lifted from early 20th Century diary entries, viewers can learn about the fascinating struggle that fostered the eruption of a new idea of youth. This film, Teenage, by Matt Wolf was inspired by Jon Savage’s book of the same name. In it, readers learned about forgotten youth movements from the early 20th Century, such as: Jitterbugs, Victory Girls, Boxcar Children, and more. The film chronicles the common transition for children, from kid to working adult, during the time of child labor. However, once child labor laws were set in place, a new stage of life emerged: young adults with nothing but time on their hands and an overwhelming amount of undirected energy. Teenage looks at the formative periods in history where the young endured oppression from their parents, governments, and the police.

The film is uniquely told and chock-full of informative pieces of history. It leaves you with a feeling that you have gotten a glimpse into the life and minds of the youth of the past. Teenage is told intermittently through archival newsreels, amateur movies, feature film clips, and photography. These are all mixed with newly filmed portraits of exceptional youth from history, allowing viewers to not only get an overview of the era, but to also connect personally with a personalized recounting of a singular memoir. Although Teenage is set in the past, it is charged with contemporary energy and resonance. People will easily appreciate the film as a visual work or art rather than as simply a documentary film.

I enjoyed how Teenage spans youth not only in America, but also abroad, in Germany and England. This broader scope allowed me to see the similarities in the process of development of becoming a teenager as well as the ways in which different cultures affected the teenage trajectory. For example, while German youth dealt with Hitler and his polarizing affect on the country, American youth dealt with issues of racial integration and the Great Depression. Overall, Teenage was not only educational but also visually stunning. It captured and reflected back the emotions, thoughts, and struggles over several movements inspired by the rebellious nature of youth. Through Teenage, viewers learn that this adolescent energy is not only about claiming independence, but also about shaping the future.

Teenage is directed by Matt Wolf, a New York based filmmaker, who was named one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine. Wolf, worked in collaboration with Jon Savage, author of the book that inspired the film. Savage, is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. Teenage was an official selection in 2013 at the BFI London Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival, and with Hot Docs. The film runs for 78 minutes and is unrated.

Teenage opens in theaters nationwide March 14, 2014.

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