Thursday 10th October, 9pm – BFI Southbank, NFT1
Friday 11th October, 6.30pm – Ritzy, Screen 2
Sunday 13th October, 12.30pm – Vue West End, Screen 5
Inspired by the book Teenage: The Creation of Youth by Jon Savage, filmmaker Matt Wolf has constructed a historical documentary tracking the roots of adolescence. The piece hangs on the notion that before the term came into existence during World War II, children went from childhood to adulthood with no middle ground – and then the “teenager” was born. It is an interesting concept, capturing the exuberance and angst of youth through the ages. However, the film spends much of its time examining milestones for adolescence from the early to mid 1900s, though it would have been fascinating to see more of the evolution from the “original” teenagers to the teens of today.
From the opening scenes, narrated by several voices including that of Jenna Malone (Sucker Punch), there is a misplaced reinforcement of the age-old teenage mantra “Nobody understands me!” The film is about the struggle for young people to express themselves in a broken, war-torn world, but a counterproductive tone of condescension distracts from this. On a small but ultimately crucial note, Malone (though a fine and accomplished actress) adopts an airy, ethereal voice for her narration that wouldn’t sound out of place in a corny perfume ad and becomes rather grating.
The jarring tone and odd narration aside, Teenage is objectively a wonderful piece of filmmaking. The archival material is beautiful and complemented with filmed portraits that are expertly edited to give a vintage feel. The focus on warring nations Germany, Britain and America gives a wide scope of adolescence and its influence on the world. Wolf explores movements such as the end of child labour, the Hitler Youth, and the jazz craze of the roaring 20s, all of which arguably shaped their respective teenage generations.
With all that boundless potential, the documentary is really rather disappointing and it is evident that Teenage may have benefited from exploring a wider timeframe. Some of the strongest scenes are those where aged footage is interspersed with modern film, drawing similarities and contrasts between teenagers then and now. As it stands, Wolf seems to explore the etymology rather than the generation.
Teenage is part of the documentary competition at the 57th London Film Festival.
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