The engrossing Teenage offers a tour of adolescent experience in the West
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 triumph 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, in jitterbugging, 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. But 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 adolescent experience, from skinny-dipping and record-buying to getting marched off to fight your parents' wars. The film opens in the early twentieth century with clutch-your-heart photos and footage of twelve-year-olds toiling in factories. By the end, in 1945, the Western world has committed to the idea of 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.
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