“This is a story that ends with a beginning…”

Great phrase and one that captures the content of this documentary perfectly. The film, by Matt Wolf and based on the book, ‘Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture 1897-1945’ by Jon Savage, charts the rise of the teenager as we know it.

It shows its earliest form, as it emerges as a distinct period of human evolution. Initially we had childhood and adulthood, sometimes a grey area in the middle that the industrial revolution may have put paid to as child labour became the norm.

When this was stamped out, or legislated out, what did we have? We were left with a chink of development in a child’s life, the passage into adulthood, the piece where weird things happen to your hormones and lets not even discuss the downstairs rumblings!

This film doesn’t really explore the sexual side of development, it doesn’t need to because that is so wrapped up in everything else we do or did as teenagers. The way we looked, the way we dressed, what we did, what we listened to, who we attracted, what friends we chose – all part and parcel of being that thing, that developmental period with no real name.

And thats the point of this film, right from the industrial revolution, world wars, depressions, racial integration, right up to the point when the New York Times printed its Teen-age Bill Of rights in 1945 and an entire culture was born and christened.

With the end of WW2, almost as if the dropping of the bombs had brought this subculture to prominence, the teenager was born – and born worldwide. With GI’s spread across the globe, Hollywood churning out the movies in glorious technicolour, and big band swing and jazz the hottest thing around, the US was the main influence not just for adults, but also for those too old to be children and too young to be adults.

This film charts the rise of the teenager using amazing footage, touching narrative – especially when discussing what effect war had on all sides or charting racial inequality.

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The film could come across as a little too “worthy” but manages to avoid this by engaging you, helping you remember what it was like to be that age, the awkwardness of it all, the emotional turmoil, but showing you that we all go through it, we all share that experience, and that history can teach us something.

History shows us the struggle others went through so that we can whine about not having the latest phone, or whatever the teenagers today moan about… but I bet you, the teenagers featured in this film whined and moaned too! It’s part of being “that” age.

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All in all, this film is a fascinating glimpse into an age before the “Me” generation, when youth clubs were dry, before injecting Cif into your eyeballs before a night out was cool – or whatever else hip cat teenagers are doing these days. It shows a more naive time, when teenagers were first pushing against those boundaries and sensing some freedom – and it’s a blinking good watch for it!

Available to buy / view on: Amazon

About the author: Chris Jones
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