by writer/director Matt Wolf
I’m obsessed with hidden histories… stories about people and movements that are pretty much forgotten. So when I heard about Jon Savage’s book Teenage I was intrigued. He argues that the teenager wasn’t invented in the 1950s with James Dean and Rockers. In fact, his book uncovers an entire pre-history of youth culture that goes way back to the turn of the century.
Previously Jon wrote the legendary chronicle of punk rock, England’s Dreaming. With Teenage I felt like he was interpreting early twentieth century history through a unique punk lens. It inspired me to make a documentary that breaks away from the didactic conventions of history films.
Early in our collaboration, Jon and I talked about “living collage.” He came up with that term when he saw young punks cutting up thrift clothes from previous youth cultures, and reassembling them with safety pins. That style of picking and choosing artifacts from the past, and remixing them into something provocative and new inspired my filmmaking. I’ve taken hundreds of film clips, photographs, and quotes from historical youth to create a contemporary movie experience.
Sometimes analyzing the past is the best way to make sense of our world today. So Teenage isn’t about Millennials, Beliebers, or even the punk, hippie, and skaters types that we already know. It’s about Hooligans, Flappers, Bright Young People, Boxcar Children, Jitterbugs, Victory Girls, Sub-Debs, and many other forgotten youth movements and characters. These young people were planting the seeds for a new type of person, who emerged at the end of World War II—the Teenager.
A lot of adults say that teenage rebellion is just an emotional rite of passage. They think today’s youth are apolitical and conformist, but they’re forgetting that their parents once said the same thing about them. History shows that youth have been at the front of major political and cultural change. They’re not just coming of age, they’re re-imagining the future.
This film is dedicated to the outrageous, defiant, and dreamy youth of the past, who prove that rebellion never gets old.