Before the twentieth century, teenagers did not exist. Children were sent into warehouses and fields to earn money for their families long before the children of today would go to middle school. Childhood and adulthood followed each other immediately, forcing children to become adults before their minds and bodies were prepared to do so. With the advent of child labor laws, kids were returned to school and given free time. This documentary explores what happened when these new teenagers were released on society and the political and cultural changes they brought with them.
Director Matt Wolf employs actual footage, diary entries, and memoirs to narrate the tale of adolescence. Following the Flappers, Nazi Youth, Bright Young Things, and the Swing Kings across America and Europe, Wolf captures the majority of teenage existence from 1900 to 1945. The film footage was mostly shot by teens themselves and captured their risqué behavior (risqué for the time, anyway) that would mold popular culture. Teens like Brenda Dean Paul and Tommie Scheel, whose impact on youth culture stretches from pre-depression era Britain to Germany in the middle of World War II are researched in detail and made a focus of the film. I recommend this film to anyone who has an interest in history, youth culture, politics, and/or film history.