Review: Teenage

Teenage runs at the IFI from January 24. [Image: IFI]

Teenage runs at the IFI from January 24. [Image: IFI]

Director/Writer – Matt Wolf

Featuring the voices of: Ben Whishaw, Jena Malone, Julia Hummer, Jessie Usher

Inspired by the book Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1845 – 1945 by Jon Savage, Teenage challenges the idea that youth culture began with Elvis Presley and rock’n’roll, charting the concept of adolescence from the 1920s, when child labour was being abolished in progressive countries. The abolition posed a somewhat unexpected question for society; what is a young person, when they are too old to play with toys, but too young to be given adult responsibilities? 

The cinematic journey jumps between American, British and German perspectives, dabbling in the development of what is now considered pop culture, and the effects of major historical events on youth, such as the gradual growth of Hitler Youth in Germany. The film also contains a possibly unplanned glimpse at gay history, as social and cultural movements against the growing Nazi regime in Germany provided something of a safe-haven for young gay men (and, presumably, women as well) as androgynous styles came into fashion.

The mixture of real footage and dramatisations in this docu-film makes for a strange, but still insightful, story, that many would not be too aware of. Some of the footage, taken from propagandist, ‘educational’ videos of the forties and fifties, is humorous in a cringe-inducing way, but that can almost be expected where campaigns aimed at younger audiences are concerned.

Overall, this is an insightful and thought-provoking piece of filmmaking by Matt Wolf. It shows that the desire and struggle all teenagers have felt to belong to something is not uncommon. In fact, it’s been going on for generations.

Teenage will be shown at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin from January 24th until 30th. For more information, visit

About Scott De Buitléir

Scott De Buitléir is an author and poet from Dublin, Ireland. He is founder of EILE Magazine, a digital publication for the Irish LGBT community, and has published several works of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. He lives in Cork with his partner.
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