TEENAGE YEARSMarch 24, 2014
Too old or too young, there’s a time in our lives where will we all be teenagers – a hormonal warzone resulting in a few shorts years of wild rebellion and mistakes without the burden of responsibility. It’s a journey sacred to us all, and throughout the generations what it truly means to be a teenager has evolved. It’s a worrying thought, but your parents, at some point, might have been…cool?
New documentary Teenage documents the evolution of teenage subculture with a collection of super-8 archives and narrated recreations from four (ex) teenagers. The result is a “living collage” of teenage history that no other documentary has achieved before.
Our US UO crew had some words with director, Matt Wolf, executive producer, Jason Schwartzman and Jon Savage, author of Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture – a book that served as the basis of the film.
Teenage is out on limited release in the UK.
UO: How did you all connect to make this movie?
Matt: I read Jon’s book and I thought it was very compelling and that it could be a great film. He had just finished the Joy Division film and I had just finished this movie called Wild Combination about Arthur Russell, so we swapped DVDs and started talking.
Jason: I saw Matt’s film Wild Combination and loved it; I remember watching it many times over the course of a week after it came out. Around the same time a friend of mine Humberto Leon, wanted some short films for his Opening Ceremony store in Japan. He hooked Matt and I up and we made one together. It was during the shoot for that that he told me about how he was going to make a movie based on this book by Jon Savage and I was excited about it.
In terms of how you, Matt and Jon, envisioned the film, did you have a clear idea of what the film would look and feel like? Did you two know from the beginning that you would want to use archival footage and take this in a more artistic direction?
Matt: We could have done a multi-part television series with expert historians and talking heads, but early on we knew we didn’t want to do that. I had accumulated about 70 or 80 hours of archival footage at some point while we were piecing together the film. I had a residency at an artists’ colony, and everyday I edited a compilation mix of archival footage to contemporary music.
Jon: Matt and I discussed early on that we didn’t want the film to be from the point of view of adults, we wanted young people’s own words. So Matt and I developed a narration where we took quotes from the book or wrote quotes that gave the teenage point of view—how it actually feels to be young.
Who is the audience for Teenage?
Matt: Teenage, to me, is an art film in a sense. The film is also an incredible music experience. I see the film almost like a record, and the narrations are like the lyrics to the record. You can just sort of sit and experience it without looking at it. The film isn’t really about your typical teenager, it’s about the exceptional young people, people who think against the grain.
Jon: Me too, because then you realise you’re not alone.
Jason: I almost wish they would show this in schools because I think it’s exciting. Also, I remember Matt came to my house with a rough compilation and narrated it for me in person, and even when he wasn’t talking it was beautiful to watch.
When you were going through all the footage and even watching the film now, was there a certain quote or piece of footage that really stood out to you?
Matt: The thing that was a big breakthrough for me was the colour footage of German swing kids. The story of the German swing kids is the most moving to me because it was the story of how pop culture and politics collide. These young people were smuggling American music and culture as a way of expressing themselves but also as a subversive tactic to resist the Nazi regime. It’s so punk.
Jon: My favourite part is the footage of the Chicago swing jamboree in 1938 with 200,000 kids going mental. And it was an integrated audience, which is amazing, because black American music was incredibly important.
Jason: You know what’s wild, and it just occurred to me, is that it blows my mind that you [Jon] wrote this book without seeing a lot of this stuff. The book and the movie, they’re companion pieces in a way. Jon wrote this book without having seen a lot of it and Matt made that possible.
There was a line in the press release about activism and rebelliousness, and how you point out that adults today sort of forget what it feels like to be a teen. In your opinion, why do you think there’s that separation?
Matt: At the core, I think it’s that teenagers represent the future because they’re going to live in the next era, and that creates a lot of hope and anxiety for adults. They project their fears onto young people and it leads to a desire to control them.
Jon: And also people get beaten down by life, they really do. People get into habits and raising a family. It also depends on temperament. I’ve always been a guy who’s interested in the present and the future. A lot of my work is in the past but when I was a kid I was into stuff that was really cutting edge, which is why I’m excited about the film.
Jason: I do remember being an adolescent and feeling angry and sad and not knowing why. As you get older, adults need to find a reason for why you feel all these things. I have a daughter now and whenever I meet a parent of an older kid they go, “Just wait ’til she’s 13!” And it’s like, why the “just wait”?
Photography Credits: www.teenagefilm.com
Interview: UO Blog US