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Philadelphia Gay News Apr. 18-24, 2014


‘Teenage’ explores blossoming of youth culture By Gary M. Kramer PGN Contributor Openly gay filmmaker Matt Wolf’s illuminating documentary “Teenage,” opening at Ritz Theatres today, is a fantastic mix of found footage, still photographs and reenactments of individual stories. The narration — by British and American boys and American and German girls — is supplied by out actor Ben Whishaw, as well as Jessie Usher, Jena Malone and Julia Hummer, respectively. Wolf, who wrote and directed the film, adapted gay author Jon Savage’s book, “Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture,” to show how teenage culture emerged over the decades pre- and post-war. One thing is common: Teenagers, and those ages 16-24 in general, wanted one thing — freedom. They found it in cars, clubs, clothes, music

and even work, which empowered them. “Teenage” opens in 1904, when children as young as 12 would work in factory jobs up to 72 hours a week. Labor laws, the film explains, soon changed that, and adolescents were suddenly free to roam the streets. They formed gangs and created a problem for the authorities. Youth groups like the Boy Scouts were formed to control kids and also to ready them for war. When World War I came in 1914, it decimated the young-adult population. Teens reinvented themselves as Bright Young People and attended “Freak Parties” where men and women would dress androgynously. They started taking drugs and soon became politicized, seeking social and political change. “Teenage” also chronicles the rise of Hitler Youth, as well as youth subcultures including the Swing Kids, Zoot Suiters and “In-Betweeners.”

PGN spoke via phone with 31-year-old Wolf about “Teenage.” PGN: What were you like as a teenager? MW: Well, I was a very political teenager. I grew up in the Bay Area, and I got involved with other young people to protect gay and transgender teens in high schools. That was my whole world — the politics I was involved in. PGN: Music is very important in “Teenage.” What did you listen to as a teen? MW: A big part of my identity was music. I chose albums because of their artwork. I got into The Smiths and The Cure. I lightly identified with punk, even though I didn’t look punk on the outside. PGN: What group of teenagers do you

identify with or would you want to belong to if you had been a teen between 190445? MW: It depends on the decade. I think I would be a Jitterbug, because there was a political dimension to them — celebrating African-American culture and integrating social spaces. And they had incredible style and verve. In the 1930s, I’d be involved in politics, and I’d be fighting for a different kind of future because that’s what I did as a teen in the 1990s. PGN: Can you talk about the Bright Young People? MW: I was searching for a gay youth movement. The gender play and queer material in the 1920s provides a striking resemblance to the Warhol factory era. I felt queer teen experience was explored in this part of the film. It was hard to find

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PGN April 18 - 24, 2014  
PGN April 18 - 24, 2014  

"The Philadelphia Gay News covers news and entertainment serving the LGBT community in the greater Philadelphia region and beyond"