Movie Review: “Teenage” Is A Fascinating Look At The Creation Of Youth


Review by James McDonald

Teenagers did not always exist. In this living collage of rare archival material, filmed portraits, and voices lifted from early 20th Century diary entries, a struggle erupts between adults and adolescents to define a new idea of youth.

Director Matt Wolf has created a captivating movie with “Teenage”, a visual look back in time to our youth and its ‘creation’. It spans over 100 years and begins in the early 1900’s when children, some as young as twelve, were sent out to work with the adults. As we progressed, child labor laws were introduced and this meant that these kids, instead of working, could go to school and hang out with other kids their own age and actually have some semblance of a normal childhood. They were in a period in their lives that suddenly took on new meaning. They were not considered children any more and they most certainly were not adults, they were called the “teenager”.

As each decade passed by, the “teenager” became more and more defiant as the film looks into the many different rebellious groups that existed around the world including the Edelweiss Pirates, the Swing Kids, the Hitler Youth and the Bright Young Things. Director Wolf doesn’t talk about today’s typical teenagers, instead, he tells the story of exceptional teens who helped characterize the divide between children and adults. Wolf uses an assortment of archival and newsreel footage infused with fake amateur film, to follow the real-life accounts from teenage writers of the era.

Whether the time-frame was that of World War I, World War II, the Flapper decade or the Depression, the teens of their time, obviously had a narrow-minded viewpoint that distorted their own relevance and showed condescension for anyone older than them. Another interesting aspect was that black teen soldiers who fought during World War II, got more respect and equal recognition in Europe than they got at home. Teens weren’t always teenagers and the movie reminds us that those privileges can be taken away at any time. Recommended.

In select theaters May 2nd including the Angelika Dallas

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James McDonald
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