Teenage (3 stars)


A fascinating and frustrating documentary examining the history of the teenager

Teenage sets itself an impossible task. Inspired by Jon Savage's hefty bestseller, Teenage: The Creation Of Youth 1875–1945, it attempts a sweeping, global overview of how the concept of the teenager came into existence. From the introduction of revolutionary child labour laws in the early days of the 20th century to the publication of Elliot E Cohen's young person's manifesto ‘A 'Teen-Age Bill Of Rights’ in the New York Times in 1945. It attempts this in little over an hour and a quarter and the result is fascinating and frustrating in equal measure.

Director Matt Wolf blends the conventional with the experimental as he makes uses of some beguiling archive footage and employs the likes of Ben Whishaw and Jena Malone to read the diary entries and voice the thoughts of individual teenagers from Britain and America. There is a poignant, Seven Up-style quality in raising the voices of the long dead and hearing their hopes and dreams for an unknown future that is now our long ago past. Dramatised scenes capture aspects of the lives of some bright young things in the England of the 1920s and there is a lengthy section devoted to attractions of the Hitler Youth Movement in Nazi Germany.

Impressionistic and unpredictable as it moves from considering Baden Powell's Scout movement to a black American confronting racial segregation, it feels fairly random and lacks a great deal in the way of context and clarity. It also seems to view the teenager as a unique creation of America and Europe with no notion at all of what might have been happening in the rest of the world during this period. A mildly interesting documentary but one that barely skims the surface of the subject matter.

Limited release from Fri 24 Jan.

Teenage (trailer)


  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • US / Germany
  • 1h 18min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Matt Wolf
  • UK release: 24 January 2014

Documentary using archive footage to tell the story of 'teenagers'.