Teenage (NR)

Documentary 80 March 14, 2014
By Alan Scherstuhl
Today it's hard for us to fathom why preachers used to rail so vehemently against jitterbugging. Even with cultural context -- black music infiltrating white America; the revolution of rhythm over melody — the whirligig boogie craze of the '30s and '40s now looks as wholesome as the ice-cream socials of the century before. The engrossing, occasionally frustrating cine-essay Teenage offers occasional moments of thrilling revelation: Here was the first mass-media pop craze where the tastes of teens began to shape the culture for the rest of us. Can't find anything fit for a grown-up mind at your cineplex? Blame Benny Goodman. Teenage never comes out and makes an argument like that. Instead, this collage-history of the very idea of teendom offers an impressionistic tour of mass adolescence experience, from skinny-dipping and record-buying to getting marched off to fight your parents' wars. The film opens in the early 20th century with clutch-your-heart photos and footage of 12-year-olds toiling in factories. By the end, in 1945, the Western world has committed to the teen years as a buffer between childhood and grown-up life, the time when each generation inherits a world it sets out to fix and each individual does what he or she can to find friends and a self. The process of fixing and finding, of course, alienates the adults, except for those who make heaps of money selling products that offer young people the chance to demonstrate their uniqueness through mass imitation of one another. The voiceover is written from the perspective of a collective teendom whose presence we see in wondrous vintage footage (marching at Scout camp, swooning to Sinatra) or in distractingly un-vintage Super 8 reenactments.
Matt Wolf Ben Whishaw, Alden Ehrenreich, Malik Peters, Anne Clare Gibbons-Brown, Don Anstock, Elizabeth Raiss, Jena Malone Jon Savage, Matt Wolf Oscilloscope Pictures

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