Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor Mel Gibson Gave Nate Parker Advice On Making 'The Birth Of A Nation' Mel Gibson Gave Nate Parker Advice On Making 'The Birth Of A Nation' Paul Schrader Says Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Assassin' Is "A Compendium Of Art House Cliches" Paul Schrader Says Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Assassin' Is "A Compendium Of Art House Cliches" 'Birth Of A Nation' And Beyond: 25 Filmmakers & Actors That Broke Through At The 2016 Sundance Film Festival 'Birth Of A Nation' And Beyond: 25 Filmmakers & Actors That Broke Through At The 2016 Sundance Film Festival The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Comedies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Comedies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More

Review: 'Teenage' A Clever Look At Youth Culture That Could Use A Bit More Maturity

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist March 19, 2014 at 7:08PM

The common perspective is that teenagers are strange, uncertain creatures, temperamental, stubborn, hard to discipline and quick to rebel, and while there is some truth in those descriptions, they ignore the undeniable impact the demographic has had on history and culture. Indeed, teenagers are such a relatively new subculture, we're only now beginning to understand their role in the social sphere to its fullest extent. Jon Savage's book "Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture: 1875-1945" explores the rise of what we now know as the teenager, and it serves as the foundation for Matt Wolf's documentary/visual essay/docudrama "Teenage," which is a clever assemblage of archival and historical material that unfortunately doesn't quite go far enough.
0
Teenage

The common perspective is that teenagers are strange, uncertain creatures, temperamental, stubborn, hard to discipline and quick to rebel, and while there is some truth in those descriptions, they ignore the undeniable impact the demographic has had on history and culture. Indeed, teenagers are such a relatively new subculture, we're only now beginning to understand their role in the social sphere to its fullest extent. Jon Savage's book "Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture: 1875-1945" explores the rise of what we now know as the teenager, and it serves as the foundation for Matt Wolf's documentary/visual essay/docudrama "Teenage," which is a clever assemblage of archival and historical material that unfortunately doesn't quite go far enough.

Teenage Tribeca Doc

Certainly, the aesthetic is impressive. With what we can only imagine was a tremendous amount of digging through boxes of old film, followed by an exhaustive editing process, Wolf collects vintage film, couples them with filmed portraits and diary entries from across the decades (with narration from Jena Malone, Ben Whishaw, Julia Hummer and Jessie Usher) and tracks the rise of four teens: Brenda Dean Paul, a scandalous British socialite; Melita Maschmann, a member of Hitler Youth; Tommie Scheel, a rebellious German Swing Kid; and Warren Wall, a black Boy Scout. And it's tightly wound, precisely put together stuff, and while the instinct to use personal history to mirror cultural change is theoretically the right approach, in practice, "Teenage" suffers because it's always wanting for more context and insight as the narrative continues to pivot around these personal tales.

As we learn in the film, the fast rise of the industrial revolution found young children brought in to work in near Dickensian-like factories, six days a week, with the kind of hours that would flatten an adult now. But as the push for workers rights eventually saw regulations come into place to outlaw child labor, suddenly there was a whole group of boys and girls left to their own devices. Their time was filled with school of course, but with more opportunity to seek out the world around them, teenagers began to step into the sphere of art and culture, helping to shape trends like swing dancing or jazz age decadence. However, even if the law protected them from backbreaking work in horrid conditions, it didn't keep them out of any wars. Teens were still recruited to fight in the two World Wars, and many signed up proudly, but it underscored the perception that these youths were viewed, if not fodder for manufacturing, then fodder for the battlefield.

Teenage

And through the four "protagonists" of the documentary, each providing a unique perspective, we get a sense of what the teenage experience at that time would've been like, what relationships would've been formed, and even how the Hitler Youth would be an intriguing proposition for a young person. But what did parents, teachers and politicians make of these changes? How did urban areas transform to accommodate a growing class of young individuals with money to spend? This is just as crucial in the telling of the rise of the teenager, but mostly it's treated with a disappointing simplicity the rest of the film lacks. Wolf often cuts to videos of badgering parents, or slightly awed news reports about the teenage phenomenon, without the same critical engagement the rest of the movie gets. And that's when the basic construction of "Teenage" starts to lose its lustre, with the assembly of various materials starting to lose its allure as the repetitive nature of the narrative begins to show.

But that said, Wolf's film is still admirable, and aided by a pretty spot on score by Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox, "Teenage" feels both present and past. The interests, influence and irritations of teenagers today are still largely the same. The romance and hopes of young people are still without boundaries or dulled by practical reasoning, and that's perhaps the biggest takeaway of the doc: that the times may change, but teenagers will forever be restless, and through that desire for more, will continue to push our world forward. [B-]

This article is related to: Teenage, Reviews, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates