The new documentary Teenage, which premiered this weekend at Tribeca Film Festival, takes a look at how different youth subcultures scattered across the world and throughout centuries have helped define teenage culture today. Through beautiful, super-8 archive footage paired with the recreations and narrations of four different teens (a self-destructive flapper, a black Boy Scout, a Swing-obsessed German boy, a Nazi youth girl) Teenage creates a vibrant "living collage" of history in a way that no documentary film has done before. We talked to Matt Wolf, the director of the film, Jon Savage, who wrote Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, the book that served as the basis of the film, and Executive Producer Jason Schwartzman, about the movie, what they were like as teens, and why adults forget what it feels like to be a rebellious youth. —Hazel
How did you all connect to make this movie?
Matt: I read Jon's book and I thought it was very compelling and I thought it could be a great film. He had just finished the Joy Division film and I just had just finished this movie called Wild Combination about Arthur Russell, so we swapped DVDs and started talking. We thought we could work together so we started a sort of Skype relationship. Eventually I went to Wales with a harddrive of footage and we started the process of etching out what the film could be.
Jason: I saw Matt's film Wild Combination and I loved it; I remembered watching it many times over the course of a week after it came out. One person I was eager to show it to was this friend of mine, Humberto Leon, who has the store Opening Ceremony. Humberto said that he was friends with Matt Wolf and later [Opening Ceremony] wanted short films for their store opening in Japan and he hooked Matt and I up and we made one together. It was during the shoot for that that he told me about how he was going to make a movie based on this book by Jon Savage and I was excited about it.
In terms of how you, Matt and Jon, envisioned the film, did you have a clear idea of what the film would look and feel like? Did you two know from the beginning that you would want to do use archival footage or sort of take this in a more artistic direction?
Matt: We could have done a multi-part television series with expert historians and talking heads, but early on we knew we didn't want to do that. I had accumulated about 70 or 80 hours of archival footage at some point while we were piecing together the film. I had a residency at an artists' colony, and everyday I edited a sort of compilation mix of archival footage to contemporary music and that was a really important part of the process for me. It made this "living collage" style we were going for.
Jon: Matt and I discussed early on that we didn't want the film to be from the point of view of adults, we wanted young people's own words. So Matt and I developed a narration where we took quotes from the book or wrote quotes that gave the teenage point of view—how it actually feels to be young. In general, the film is pretty much how we wanted it to be from the start. I've worked in documentaries on and off for years and you can get very bored with documentaries—you know exactly what's going to happen. And with Teenage, I think we've invented a new form.
Who is the audience for Teenage; is it teenagers?
Matt: Teenage, to me, is an art film in a sense. The film is also an incredible music experience. I see the film almost like a record, and the narrations are like the lyrics to the record. You can just sort of sit and experience it without looking at it. I hope fans of music are a fan. And the film isn't really about your typical teenager, it's about exceptional young people, people who think against the grain. I wish I had seen this film when I was a teenager.
Jon: Me too. Because then you realize you're not alone.
Jason: I almost wish they would show this in schools because I think it's exciting. Also, I remember Matt came to my house with a rough compilation and narrated it for me in person, and even when he wasn't talking it was beautiful to watch.
When you were going through all the footage and even watching the film now, was there a certain quote or piece of footage that really stood out to you?
Matt: The thing that was a big break-through for me was the color footage of German swing kids. The story of the German swing kids is the most moving to me because it was the story of how pop culture and politics collide. These young people were smuggling American music and culture as a way of expressing themselves but also as a subversive tactic to resist the Nazi regime. It's so punk. I also love the quote, "Before Pearl Harbor I was playing with paper dolls, after Pearl Harbor I never played with dolls again." And there's also this quote towards the end of the film, from a letter to the editor for Seventeen Magazine, that says, "I love being seventeen. I wish I could stay this age for awhile. Seventeen is that perfect spot between adolescence, which means you're going somewhere, and adulthood which means you're on the downgrade."
Jon: [laughs] I'm totally downgraded! I love the quote, "My world is speedy and they're old." That's from a book called Middletown, which is about this couple who went to a town in the midwest for a year in the 1920s and reported what they found. But, my favorite bit, is the footage of the Chicago swing jamboree in 1938 with 200,000 kids going mental. And it was an integrated audience, which is amazing, because black American music was incredibly important.
Jason: You know what's wild, and it just occurred to me, is that it blows my mind that you [Jon] wrote this book without seeing a lot of this stuff. The book and the movie, they're companion pieces in a way. Jon wrote this book without having seen a lot of it and Matt made that possible.
Matt: We were really rigorous in making sure that everything in the film is based on historical truths and uncovered history. We based the narration on primary source quotes and based our characters off of real people and that rigor is really important to us as filmmakers and historians.
Jason: Another great thing about the film is that it doesn't get into all the stuff you already know. These are the people and the stories that seeped through everything.
And tell me a little bit more about picking out the uncovered stories and building the narrations you wanted to use.
Matt: I took Jon into a recording studio and we tried narrating the story and it didn't feel authentic because he was an older person and a British person speaking about this global story.
Jon: I was terrible. [laughs]
Matt: A friend of mine connected me to Jena Malone, who came to the studio and experimented with doing voice-overs with tons of subjective quotes. I thought that worked and was an interesting way to tell a story. But then I thought, can an American girl carry this whole story? No. So, we ended up narrowing the film to America and England and Germany and race was an important part of the story as well so I added an African American character and I wanted there to be an equal balance between female and male narratives.
And there was a line in the press release I was really interested in about activism and rebelliousness, and how you point out that adults today sort of forget what it feels like to be a teen. In your opinion, why do you think there's that separation?
Matt: At the core, I think it's that teenagers represent the future because they're going to live in the next era, and that creates a lot of hope and anxiety for adults. They project their fears onto young people and it leads to a desire to control them. But why do adults forget this need for freedom and self-expression and revert to this need to control? I think it's out of fear.
Jon: And also people get beaten down by life, they really do. People get into habits and raising a family, if you do that. It also depends on temperament. I've always been a guy who's interested in the present and the future. A lot of my work is in the past but when I was a kid I was into stuff that were really cutting edge, which is why I'm excited about the film because it's so different. You have the everyman histories, the history of the normal people, but when I was a kid I hated the normal people. I never wanted to be normal EVER. With the book and the film I was interested in the exceptional people who make the change. Because, if there's no change there's just entropy and then everything turns to shit.
Matt: When I was a teen I was a gay activist, and I remember publishing this underground newspaper and dumping it in the middle of my quad and then going to the bathroom and just barfing. I didn't even think about it as brave, it was just this immediate need to express myself. As I get older I think about what people will think of me and I try not to think that way, but with teenagers, they just purely express in a very visceral way.
Jason: I do remember being an adolescent and feeling angry and sad and not knowing why. As you get older, adults need to find a reason for why you feel all these things. I have a daughter now and whenever I meet a parent of an older kid they go, "Just wait till she's 13!" *eye roll* and it's like, why the "just wait?"
Jon: It's part of that experience of separating from your parents and joining the world of your peers.
Matt: And when you're young, a lot of the time you're oppressed. I think with this film, it's really about a formative period in history in which young people were facing an unprecedented amount of oppression from their parents and the government. They were really just struggling for basic forms of recognition and to endure these struggles and define yourself under judgmental and high-pressure critique from adult society it leads towards revolution.
I love California with a fanaticism that borders on full-on obsession. I haven't been to every state, but it's hard to imagine that there's one out there that is more beautiful or weirder than this one. That said, if the Coachella throngs get to be too much for you out there in the desert, there are several quick(ish) side-trips you can make to experience some of that signature weird beauty.—Kate
There are some places that you may just never get to go (middle of nowhere Alaska) and some places you might not want to visit even if you're allowed (Suicide Forest, Japan). Those are the places that the VICE team has visited over the years in order to provide their readers with extremely unique documentaries. No idea how they all haven't gotten themselves killed yet, but if you've somehow missed these over the years, here's a few of the more interesting locales they've visited. If you want to see what else they have to offer, there are some even wilder ones over on the VICE YouTube channel. —Katie
Inside North Korea
Anything on North Korea is automatically riveting and this documentary is no exception. The tea girl at the end of "Part 1" needs her own documentary because what does she do all day?
Surviving Alone in Alaska
Basically it's exactly what the title implies and it's badass and he doesn't even die at the end!
Suicide Forest In Japan
The Suicide Forest is something that you think only exists on Wikipedia; when you find out it actually exists, and that there are people who patrol the area for bodies, it's kind of a mind-fuck. This documentary has the VICE crew following around one of the aforementioned patrolmen as he searches for bodies and tries to deter anyone else from taking their life. Suffice it to say he has a pretty heavy job.
Living Without Laws: Slab City, USA
This place is what nightmares are made of. Unless you're, y'know, a hippie. Or love hanging out with eccentric desert-folk.
The Jersey Shore of England
With a name like "The Jersey Shore of England," you know this documentary is going to deliver.
Wildsam Field Guides are "a series of American field guides, small books with a lot of soul, packed with local lore, interviews, a cultural almanac, vignetted memoirs, a best-of list, hand-drawn maps, and much more." Sounds perfect for those of us looking to travel. The Nashville Field Guide was the first book in the series released by Wildsam, and in May the newest field guide for Austin will be available to the public. If you happen to be at SXSW this week, then you'll be able to get your hands on a preview of the Austin guide. You can check out where they'll be available here, and once you check it out, you can start having the Austin time of your life!—Katie
Sometimes you just want to read a book that will let you feel like you're getting to experience a new place. Whether that's through a road trip plot, a character traveling, or just an excellent setting is up to you. Here's a short list of books to check out if you're feeling particularly wanderlust-y lately. Since I'm terrible at summarizing books in a legitimate way, I pulled each description off of Amazon for you guys, and if you click the picture, you'll go straight to the Amazon link so you can load up your cart with brain-strengthening tomes. Look how easy I made reading for you! Do it!—Katie
On The Road Jack Kerouac [BECAUSE DUH]
"On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac's years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, 'a sideburned hero of the snowy West.' As 'Sal Paradise' and 'Dean Moriarty', the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance."
Blue Highways William Least-Heat Moon
It's that time again, where the indie world converges in Texas for the South By Southwest festival. Start-ups will be hyped, bands will blow up, films will hit the stratosphere. (Or so they hope.) Tickets will be scalped, parties will be crashed, and kegs will be emptied. (Yep, that's a definite.) We turned to music festival veteran Maura Johnston for her hard-won tips on how to survive the awesome madness. —Maura Johnston via (Fathom)
Now it's time to meet the man behind the magic, director Harmony Korine. Watching Harmony work is amazing, and makes me wish I was on set just to watch him direct. If you're unfamiliar with the name, I would suggest starting with the cult flick Kids, the first film he co-wrote with Larry Clark. It may just give you an idea of the intensity you're about to witness in Spring Breakers. —Ally
Gossip wants you to get your shit together and get to work! Waitressing, car sales, dentistry—Beth Ditto does it all in this video for what might be the catchiest and most encouraging anthem to get a f**king job. - Hazel
Refinery 29 put up 30 shots of men doing accessories right at NYFW and they all look so fly. Too many men out there forget to accessorize (okay, they forget about fashion altogether because, dudes, Asics and cargo pants are not fashion), but it's easier than you might think! Take a look below and inspire yourselves, gents.—Katie
OBEY San Juan Snapback Hat
Herschel Supply Co. Camouflage Colorblock Settlement Backpack
Herschel Little America Backpack
UO Double Cable Knit Eternity Scarf
Tretorn Skymra Mid-Top SL GTX Sneaker
Hawkings McGill Desert Hiking Boot
Profound Aesthetic Pin
Leonard won Teen Jeopardy like a motherfuckin' champion. If only real Jeopardy was this much fun. Listen to Alex's delighted grandpa laugh at the end! So heartwarming! We should all take a cue from Leonard and just live life like a boss. You go, Leonard!-Katie
I know you're really attached to those Ninja Turtle sheets of yours, but if you want to be an adult, you've gotta get rid of them. Even if you're in college, you have no excuses. Your bed can make or break your entire room, and I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Turtle sheets from 1987 are definitely a don't.—Katie
Kaleidoscope Patchwork Quilt
Quilts look awesome and last forever. Plus, they still tie into the whole, "I'm a cool pot-smokin' freshman-in-college" look if that's what you're going for.
Plum & Bow Bird Blossom Duvet Cover
Classy, yet trendy enough to make you feel like you're not sleeping in your grandma's guest room.
Floral Watercolor Duvet Cover
This one is actually kind of grandma's guest room, but if your grandma were super cool and had great taste.
Plum & Bow Distressed Damask Duvet Cover
Black and white makes it super easy to match up with the blacklight Led Zeppelin posters on your wall.
Kaleidoscope Patchwork Quilt
Again, quilts are seriously awesome.
Magical Thinking Vine Flourish Duvet Cover
Think about all the fun times you'll have with this duvet. Like eating pizza on it.
Albert The French Bulldog Pillow
Don't worry, having a grown-up bed isn't all bad.
Valentine’s Day has arrived and your girl just dumped you? Weaksauce. But don’t kill yourself bro! Hey, hey, suicide is no joke, and offing yourself over a girl? That’s doubly ignorant. Unless those things are the subject of an '80s John Cusack comedy, then they’re fine.
Don’t emulate Better Off Dead protagonist Lane Meyer and try (unsuccessfully) to take your own life after getting dropped by your girlfriend. But do take a tip from Lane when he gets his shit together in the second act and decides to get with the hot French exchange student next door and beat the local douchebag in a ski competition. No French cutie in your neighborhood? Well at least you can get over your breakup by crushing a box of Russell Stovers chocolates and watching one of my favorite, most inadvertently stylish and lovably morbid '80s movies.
Sure, everybody loves Say Anything, but before Cusack developed his leading man swagger he was navigating dancing hamburgers, genius siblings and murderous paperboys in this cult classic. At the very least you can distract yourself from the breakup by getting stoked on the dope vintage ski style, which is relevant anyway because there’s probably still three feet of snow in your backyard. -Angelo
Prediction for 2013: Nicholas Hoult — more commonly known as Tony from Skins series one, the only Skins that matters and the greatest teen drama of all time — finally blows up in the states.
Sure, I thought the same thing in 2009 when Tom Ford gave Tony a role in A Single Man and subsequently tapped him for his eyewear campaign, but it didn’t happen. America wasn’t ready. Then I was sure it was finally Tony’s year when he played Beast in X-Men: First Class, but alas, he disappeared for another few years.
But in 2013 Tony is starring in both Warm Bodies and Jack the Giant Slayer, two mediocre looking big budget Hollywood films, and that’s just what we Americans love! After this summer I predict a role in one of those holiday themed ensemble romcoms, then an Oscar nod for a starring role in a breakout indy. Hopefully after that he starts dating Emma Watson and together the two bring a bit of British class to the young Hollywood scene. Fingers crossed.–Angelo
Is there anything worse than a break up? Going through a break up can be likened to dragging your body across a vast desert of broken glass, and there's nothing in sight except far off in the distance there's a tiny island with a palm tree, but maybe it's a mirage and oh my god why is life so hard? Now that I have painted a picture of how terrible break ups can be, let me remind you that things are only going to get better! One day, as you're weeping into a bucket of Ben & Jerry's, you'll realize that the tiny little mirage island you saw is suddenly right in front of you and BLAMMO! you're over your break up. Until that happens, though, don't forget these simple things.—Katie
Don't stand outside your ex's house with a boombox
This is the second time in a week that I've referenced this uber-creepy move from Say Anything but it bears repeating—no one actually wants that done to them! Imagine you're nestling into bed for the night only to look out your window and see your bug-eyed ex of the past, straining under the weight of his Bose iPod dock as he blasts that Really Special Beach House song you guys both liked. Hell. No. Just don't do it, people. Don't do it.
Don't fall for nonesense
If your emotionally distant ex shows up at your door with a "romantic" speech trying to win you back, don't be swayed. Listen, if my questionable ex popped up at my door expecting full forgiveness after a dumb speech filled with cliches, fuhgudaboutit. You dumped that person for a reason! Just because they have an aptitude for public speaking does not mean they have changed in the slightest. Bolt your door immediately and fire up the Taylor Swift.
If a doctor is like, "Hey, we can delete all the memories of your ex!" just say no.
Although it's tempting to forget they ever existed in the first place, don't waste your money on fancy brain zapping gadgets! First of all, you'll probably just end up falling for them again anyway (ah, romance), and second of all, just pop on a few seasons of Laguna Beach. It will soothe you to sleep and will probably kill more brain cells than any lousy old machine.
Okay so, normally cleaning is the worst thing in the entire world and I never want to touch cleaning supplies because GROSS, and all the chemical smells make your eyes water, but if you haven't tried Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day line of cleaning products, then you've seriously been missing out. They make me almost enjoy cleaning because the smells are so delicious, especially the geranium scent. I wish there were some way for me to pump the smell from my computer to yours, but you'll just have to trust me and run out to the nearest Target to try it. The brand's been around a while, but they're constantly adding new scents to the collection, especially limited ones during the holidays. My opinion on cleaning products is probably the most worthless opinion in the world, but you can at least trust me when I tell you that this shit smells bomb.—Katie
Anne Hathaway has come a LONG hath-away to get to where she is now—it's like she actually became a version of her character in The Princess Diaries! She started out as a gangly, sorta dorky, 20-something-year-old girl, starring in a mix of rom-coms, period pieces and the occasional "y so srs?" movies (I mean, has anyone even seen Rachel Getting Married? OMG, you haven't? GO WATCH IT NOW.).
TeuxDeux is a "to-do" list (see what they did there?) app, and its website boasts that it's super easy, super good-looking, and super useful. I've been using it the past few days and I have to say, I can't help but agree with them. Even though I do love using the ol' fashioned Notes app, it's kind of nice to not have to stare at that gross yellow background every time I need to write a little note to remind myself to shower. Get that resolution going (only a month late, NBD), and start organizing your shit!—Katie
Although the phrase "winning" may still seem fresh in your mind, it has been almost two years since the kind of insane Charlie Sheen completely lost it. After being fired from his television show and having went through a messy divorce, the news surfaced that he was now clean of his drug abuse, and, well, he gave a particularly memorable interview on national television where he proved the news true, and coined some absolutely ridiculous phrases that were worthy of being printed on T-shirts. Between all of this madness and supposed constant partying, he even managed to go on a national tour of sorts to preach his philosophy of "winning," where he tried to convince people he was a "warlock" and drank tiger blood. Okay, Sheen.
Needless to say, his meltdown is one of the most memorable celebrity freakouts in history, but I'm pretty sure Charlie Sheen has actually gotten his shit together since then. He's been out of the news for a while until recently, when the trailer for his new movie, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, came out. The people Sheen worked with on this movie, like Roman Coppola, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are all people who DO have their shit together, which convinces me that Charlie is on the right track at this point. I'm kind of thinking this movie will be the deciding factor in Charlie's comeback as a normal, calm human being. It comes out this week, so we'll see!—Maddie
Being clean. So fresh, so honorable, such a common courtesy for anyone who regularly ventures out in public. But is our version of "clean" really as wholesome as we think? Maybe you eat organic, use energy-saving light bulbs and switch off the faucet in between tooth brushing and spitting, but are you absent-mindedly slathering yourself and your environment with potentially harmful chemicals on a daily basis? Quite possibly. It's cool, we're not here to judge, we're here to help. We're a bit of a hippie and we think about these kinds of things a lot. So, not to go all GOOP on you, but may we suggest four super-simple all-natural, non-toxic, earth-kind everyday product swaps? Okay!—Natalie.
John Mayer has been kind of a butt in recent years. When he started out, he was just a sweet little dweebo wearing cargo pants and rocking a $10 Supercuts haircut. A few years ago, he basically couldn't take a step without putting his foot in his mouth like an idiot, or ruining a new relationship (he was totes the 2008 male version of 2012 Taylor Swift), or just being a general annoyance. But then he fucked up his throat and moved to Montana and now I guess he's on crack (he's not on crack). Rolling Stone recently put up this interview with him and, aside from all the weird hats and denim, it seems like John Mayer might have actually gotten his shit together. He's almost... boring now. But hey, if that keeps him from acting like a drunk frat boy, more power to him.—Katie