Hot Docs 2013: My Thoughts on Teenage

Teenage It has only been within the last century when the second stage of life, known as adolescence, began to be defined.  Before then, you were either known as a child or an adult and it was not uncommon to see children as young as 12 working in factories.  When child labour laws were introduced in the early 1900s, it began the development of what would become to be known as teenagers.  Matt Wolf’s film Teenage is adapted from the book Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, 1875-1945 by Jon Savage and examines how adolescence developed over the years, until it was formally defined in the years following World War II. The film consists entirely of archive footage and photographs, accompanied by narration from the likes of Jena Malone and Ben Whishaw, as well as a score by Brandford Cox of the band Deerhunter.  The narration of the film is meant to represent the point of view of young people in America, Britain, and Germany.  The concept of the teenager, as it is is known today, is primarily an American invention, which inspired youth in other parts of the world.  The youth went through many names over the years, such as flappers, jitterbugs, and sub-debs, until finally the term “teen-ager” was formally defined in a 1945 manifesto.

I thought that the history of the teenager presented in Teenage was quite interesting.  While kids in America were all about having fun and dancing to swing music, kids of the same age in Germany were required to join the Hitler Youth, which ended up making up many of the soldiers on the frontlines in World War II, many as young as 13-14.  There is a very interesting moment in the film, which shows clips of both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler giving speeches praising the youth as  the people of the future.  The film even goes as far to put a quote from Hitler on screen.  There were some kids in Germany, who rebelled against the regime and adopted an Americanized lifestyle.  However, they often found themselves killed for going against Hitler. The main theme of Teenage is how youth struggled to find an identity for themselves over the years.  This is best represented in a clip of Judy Garland singing the song “In Between,” in which she laments that she is “too old for toys, too young for boys.”  To many youth, World War II was a coming of age period and, after participating in the war effort, they did not consider themselves to be kids anymore.  For many, the age of 17 was the perfect spot between being an adolescent and an adult.  Slowly businesses began to realize that they could market to this age group and, by the end of World War II, the old world was over and the age of the teenager had begun. I overall thought that Teenage was an excellent invasion of the senses.  The combination of the images on screen and Brandford Cox’s excellent score made for a highly enjoyable viewing experience.  Teenage definitely sets a high point when it comes to creating documentaries out of existing footage. 10 | LOVED IT  

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).