Teenage: A Fascinating Documentary

teenageRED Hearts are guest posts on I Heart Daily from the authors of RED: Teenage girls in America write on what fires up their lives today. Today’s RED Hearts post is from RED editor Amy Goldwasser, in NYC, who writes about a new, captivating documentary:

Is it ever refreshing to see a documentary called Teenage -- and to see that it doesn’t include a single cliché or overgeneralization about, after all, millions and millions of people. Not a locker or a pep rally or an easy-label Breakfast Club character in sight. The totally stylish but substantive, simple but fascinating new film recognizes how utterly complicated it is, has always been, to live in this world as an in-betweener.Teenage is also thankfully a documentation of a time before the common Snapchat era (all phones look near-unliftable, the kind that must be always be referred to as telephones) and a recognition that America doesn’t own the teenager. Based on the book Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture 1875-1945 by Jon Savage, a Brit who also wrote the script, this is a film about a highly politicized and powerful cultural movement -- not about kids who are boy-crazed or buy a lot of records.From a truly global perspective, with found footage so captivating you can’t believe they found it, Teenage tells the story of young people as both a rising force for change and, in many ways, enactors and heirs to the mess made by adults.A fairly sinister history lies behind the power of this part of the population. Basically the grownups realized they needed their kids -- first, in the early 1900s, as their labor force, working 14-hour days in factories, then to fight their wars with the world.The teenager’s built-in tendency to rebel could be played to, exploited. All of the stories here are smartly humanized and individualized, told from a first-person and unidentified point of view. One of these “I” narrators is a young girl in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. It’s absolutely chilling to watch her seduced by the Hitler Youth -- a group that was designed in every way to appeal to the desire to rebel, a chance to be different from your parents, a chance to be yourself and free and healthy and playing with friends in the great outdoors. Teenage shows it as it must have appealed from her perspective, the perfect summer camp. Shudder. Then, slightly later, there were the Edelweiss Pirates, a group of young Germans who were a reaction against the Hitler Youth. When they’re caught and sent to the frontlines of battle, you can’t help but gasp at the image of boys as young as maybe nine or ten years old, teary under helmets.

Teenage strikes just the right balance between the tragedy and, at times, the sheer joy and exhilaration of being a teenager. I could probably have watched the birth of swing and the jitterbugs (noun, as in people who jitterbug) with a grin for the full hour and 20 minutes of the film. And the spot-on soundtrack, by Bradford Cox (of Deerhunter) is sparkling and sharp and World of Tomorrow, underlined by a simultaneous concern about the future and the terror of that place between childhood and adulthood, the dream -- and nightmare -- of growing up.

RED Hearts guest poster Amy Goldwasser is the editor of RED: Teenage girls in America write on what fires up their lives today, which is out in paperback.