Teenage (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner24/01/2014

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 78 mins

Matt Wolf's scrapbook-style documentary is packed full of fascinating archive footage and tells a handful of interesting stories, but it's slightly undermined by its directorial approach, since you end up questioning the veracity of what you're actually watching.

What's it all about?
Directed by Matt Wolf and based on a book by John Savage, Teenage is a scrapbook-style documentary that blends archive footage, staged sequences, fictionalised accounts and real-life teenage diaries in order to trace the pre-history of the teenager in the 20th century. The film uses multiple unseen narrators (including Ben Whishaw and Jena Malone) to tell the stories of a number of 20th century teenagers, including a 1920s Bright Young Thing, a German 'Swing Kid', a young woman who's drawn to the Hitler Youth movement, and black American Warren Wall, a member of the Scouts.

The Good>
The film does a good job of tracing the origins of the teenager, noting key developments such as child labour laws (which stopped children from working in factories), the outbreak of the First World War and the rise of the Scout movement. All these things contributed to a sense of youthful freedom, which came into its own after the Second World War, with the New York Times essentially giving birth to the concept of the teenager when it published A Teen-age Bill of Rights in 1945.

Wolf has assembled a wealth of terrific archive footage of teenagers from the late 1800s to the 1940s and it's fascinating to observe correlations between teenage rebellion and music throughout the years, long before the advent of rock ‘n' roll. He also makes some interesting points about the effect of war on teenage attitudes towards their parents, though, along with most of the ideas touched on, these aren't explored in any great depth.

The Bad
The main problem with the film is the set-up ultimately becomes distracting – artfully shot staged sequences are inserted along with genuine archive footage so that you're never quite sure of the veracity of what you're seeing on screen. Similarly, it's impossible to tell how many of the diaries are real and how much is fictionalised (as some sections clearly are), which ultimately becomes frustrating. (It doesn't help that the actors read these segments in an un-engaging and slightly flat tone throughout).

Worth seeing?
Teenage is worth seeing for its wealth of fascinating archive material but there's nothing here that will surprise anyone who was paying attention in history class, and the tricksy structure is ultimately frustrating.

Film Trailer

Teenage (PG)
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Content updated: 23/07/2018 16:45

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