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Stars: Narrators: Jena Malone, Ben Whishaw, Julia Hummer, Jessie Usher

Director: Matt Wolf

The basic premise of director Matt Wolf’s fascinating documentary (which interestingly blends reality footage with cleverly created fictional elements that blend in perfectly with the overall picture) appears to be that teenagers per se were invented in the United States circa 1945.

It says much for Wolf (who based his film, co-written by Jon Savage and based on the latter’s book) that Teenage makes sense, sociologically and anthropologically for most of its (relatively) short running time.

The narrative follows youngsters in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany from pre-World War One to 1945 and the end of World War Two when the word teenager was ‘invented’ and ended up in common usage. Up to then, young people are shown, variously, as flappers in America, Bright Young Things in Great Britain, and Hitler Youth and their opponents in Germany.

Narrators Ben Whishaw (for Great Britain), Jena Malone (for the US) and Julia Hummer (speaking for Germany) add interesting comments to found footage that mostly speaks for itself, notably Sinatra being cheered by the hormone-driven bobbysoxers at a concert. For me, one of the most telling clips in the film (produced by actor Jason Schwartzman) features Judy Garland plaintively singing “I’m an in-between’ before become officially a teenager.

Alan Frank

USA/Germany 2013. UK Distributor: Soda Pictures. b/w & colour.
77 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 23 Jan 2014