It's now perhaps strange to consider that the notion of a "teenager" is actually a rather new one, emerging in the early part of the twentieth century. Adapting Jon Savage's novel of the same name, Matt Wolf's unconventional, vivid documentary 'Teenage' (driven by a soundtrack by Bradford Cox of Atlas Sound/Deerhunter fame) explores this relatively recent phenomenon.
The term "teenager" only appeared in the wake of World War II in 1945, an American invention that actually had its origins more closely linked to the demise of child labour in the early part of the century. Before then, life was merely split into childhood then work as an adult. Wolf adopts a haphazard style and narrative in addressing the birth of the teenager, mixing vibrant archive footage with period reconstructions.
The film suffers from a certain ethnocentrism - its gaze centred only on the youthful perspectives in England, Germany, and America. Wolf uses case studies, focussing particularly on certain individuals to represent wider movements. The likes of Melita Maschmann, an idealistic member of the Hitler Youth, and British it-girl-of-sorts Brenda Paul provide a special (if narrow) insight into differing conceptions of the teenager.
These case studies employ contemporary voices such as Ben Whishaw and Jena Malone to narrate, while Cox's mesmerising soundtrack permeates throughout the film. 'Teenage' is at times fascinating, especially with regards to its visual elements, but its scatter-gun approach and limited scope can often be somewhat trying.
'Teenage' is out today in UK cinemas, through Soda Pictures.