Thursday, 20 March 2014


Last week I saw Teenage a documentary about, well, teenagers.  It covers youth culture from the end of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th, which, according to the film, is when that midpoint between childhood and adulthood first started to define itself.  Or rather, be defined by the people living through it.  Pretty much all of the footage is archive, and some of it is gobsmackingly wonderful - for instance, the clips in colour from teenagers in Germany at the start of WW2 who didn't want to join Hitler Youth and instead listened to swing music and took photos of themselves dressed as gangsters. 

The film also has some original footage. One tale they recreate is that of Brenda Dean Paul, a silent movie actress and member of the group known as Bright Young People in the 1920's, who sadly became one of the first famous heroin addicts.   In an interview with The Hairpin, director Matt Wolf described why her story was one that jumped out for him. "I discovered her in the book and she’s a sort of an obscure figure. I was really intrigued by her contemporary archetype—she was elevated by the media as this kind of aspirational figure but at the same time publicly crucified and condemned, and she had this public downfall. It’s something you see a lot in pop culture now with Lindsay Lohan or Justin Bieber. There is a kind of sexist quality to it as well, a crucifixion of the young female figure, and that’s something that as a culture we do a lot."  (That's a great interview by the way, as is the one by Laura Snapes on Rookie.  She spoke to Wolf and Jon Savage, the author of Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1845–1945, the book the documentary is based on). 

It's scored by original music from Bradford Cox of Deerhunter/Atlas Sound, who, of course, has done an incredible job.  And be sure to check out the film's website, where there's a great page called Tube Time which has lots of archive footage to scroll through.  Including a 9 minute clip of the 1984 Miss Teen USA Pageant, and a video that explains how to Jitterbug.  There's a lot of jitterbugging in the documentary and it always took my breath away. 

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