Monday, June 27, 2005

Teen Movies

Samantha Mathis in Pump Up The Volume

When I was a teenager, my parents, alarmed by what they saw as an unhealthy obsession with movies, attempted some good old-fashioned brain-washing. They took me to see a Tamil movie called Cinema Payithhiyam, loosely translated as "Derangement by Cinema". It didn't work. What was meant to be a cautionary tale of a film-fixated teen came across to me as a romantic — if slightly excessive — celebration of the power of movies to colonize the unconscious.

After I moved to the States, I was surprised to discover that the Hollywood movies that spoke to me most about the social, political and emotional truths of life in America were often not thrillers or family dramas or romantic comedies or gangster films, but teen movies like Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Dazed And Confused, Clueless, Donnie Darko, Ghost World, and Elephant. And those that weren't quite in the above heavyweight class, but well worth it nevertheless, like Risky Business, Saved!, Freaky Friday, Mean Girls, and Can't Hardly Wait.

Recently, I caught up with a little gem that I must have let slip way back when, Pump Up The Volume from 1990. Christian Slater plays an anonymous pirate-radio DJ broadcasting to the teen community every night from his bedroom, eventually whipping them up into a frenzy of disaffection. Written and directed by a Canadian, Allan Moyle, it reminds me of the grandaddy of the modern teen movie, Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without A Cause, in that the sympathies of the filmmaker rest entirely with the teens. They live in a compromised and cowardly world built for and by adults. Worse, the adults are like pod people, body snatchers wandering around anesthetized, their mission to instill (inject? infect?) "wholesome family values" in their kids. The teenagers in Pump Up The Volume stand — without really knowing it — for integrity, authenticity, and the spirit of constant questioning. And to top it off, the movie has a great, tough, open-ended, unsentimental finish.

And so, it would be fun to know: what are some of your favorite teen movies? Comment box below, shiny and new, gleams like a newly polished confessional.


Anonymous phil said...

no John Hughes classics made it onto your list? cliche, i know, but for a reason -- i've always been a fan of The Breakfast Club. Some Kind of Wonderful is cute, and i always prefer Pretty in Pink to Sixteen Candles, but that's just me...

And is Kevin Smith considered a 'teen movie' director? if he is, then you could put Mallrats (and Clerks, i guess) on my list.

also, while its not a movie, my all time favorite teen show was My So-called Life........ i am still blown away by how well that show captured what being in highschool in the 90's was like....i watch it and its like reading a yearbook for me. oh the nostalgia.

June 27, 2005 12:24 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Phil, I totally blanked on Hughes. Yeah, I really liked The Breakfast Club. I watched Sixteen Candles again recently and it didn't seem as cool as it once did. (Maybe that's asking too much of a teen pic). And yet Fast Times, 20+ years later, still looks and sounds really sharp and relevant.

June 27, 2005 12:34 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

there is something more of the loss of innocence in Sixteen Candles that makes it my least favorite of the Hughes teen flicks...i don't know, something in it just bugs me. but a lot of people consider it to be the Hughes film, for some reason (maybe because it was the first?)

June 27, 2005 12:41 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Sometime in the '70s I caught an amazing no-budget film called "Massacre at Central High", set in a universe void of adults where teens run rampant. I haven't seen it since, but back then I remember calling it "Brave New High School".

June 27, 2005 2:50 PM  
Blogger Wiley said...

Unequivocally, "Over the Edge".

June 27, 2005 7:19 PM  
Anonymous carlostj said...


June 27, 2005 7:24 PM  
Blogger Ed Garrity said...

Well, I really like Donnie Darko.

It's one you recommended and loaned to me, of course. The film made a nice contrast between teen culture and adults, and I love the whacky evil influence of the "evil rabbit devil" ... the darkness, mystery and other world influence. When teens or anyone go crazy, and shoot up the public, ... and we read the headlines, we get the background story - "oh, he was a nice quiet kid, but, he got picked on by the bullies, etc." or we get stories about how the kid delved into a secret world of violent video games, the Internet, etc., well Donnie Darko had this foreboding atmosphere ... eerie, scary, ... and, it contrasted the world views nicely, the family, Donnie's peer school world, the adult world, the evil world of his head and the Devil Rabbit, and they all crashed in together.

June 28, 2005 8:05 AM  
Anonymous Darren said...

I had such a crush on Samantha Mathis after seeing Pump Up the Volume. I'm pretty sure a friend and I saw it more than once when it played at our local discount theater. And the soundtrack ain't bad, either.

I love teen films that make me feel nostalgic. And I mean that in two different ways. Sixteen Candles makes me feel nostalgic for the hours I spent in the 80s, watching and rewatching and rewatching my VHS copy. War Games is the same.

The great teen films make me nostalgic for the strangeness and excitement of being a teenager. That's why Fast Times is so perfect, I think, and why Dazed and Confused is one of my all-time favorites. I wrote a bit about my nostalgia a year or so ago after one of my many re-viewings of Dazed.

June 28, 2005 9:15 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, Cool post on Dazed, I hadn't seen it before. I'd have to say it's my all-time fave teen picture as well.

It's funny, I feel no nostalgia when I see these movies because my teen years seem so unimaginably different growing up in India, and yet the really great teen films tap into universal aspects of teen-age experience that one can't help but resonate with.

What really works for me with the best pix in this genre is really two things: (1) how acutely observant they can be, sociologically, and (2) how the characters are constantly trying to figure out who they are, and forming their identities, and are open to new things like music and art and fashion and what-have-you. For better and worse, we tend to lose that aspect of searching and experimentation and adventurousness a little bit when we "grow up", which is a pity.

June 28, 2005 11:14 AM  
Blogger acquarello said...

Does Fame count? That one really resonated with me. I thought it really captured what it was like to grow up in New York City and pressure of attending a highly competitive, specialized high school (although, we never did actually break out into much singing and dancing at Stuyvesant. :)

June 28, 2005 11:51 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'm not sure if these films are more directed for an adult audience over a teen audience, but both Ghost World and Election are especially poignant. Ghost for representing that portion of the the High School that ends up marginalized, and Election for the poor role models teens find in the adult world. Growing up though, I watched my for-TV-version of the Breakfast Club until the VCR wouldn't read the tape anymore.

June 28, 2005 12:55 PM  
Blogger girish said...

acquarello, Fame *so* counts. And I didn't know you grew up in NYC. Maybe you'll start dropping little autobiographical tidbits in the new notes section of your site. :-)

Brian, I clean forgot one of my favorites: Election! What a wonderful, bracingly black-hearted film...

June 28, 2005 1:56 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Two films - one a personal favorite, the other a brutal (but not exploitative) masterpiece about the teen experience:
Ferris Beuller's Day Off and All About Lily Chou-Chou.

June 28, 2005 5:43 PM  
Blogger Mike Slagor said...

I know I'm coming in late, but I'll take an amalgamation of all of these posts. Recently, Donnie Darko comes to mind. But I watched Dazed and Confused, Clueless, and Can't Hardly Wait countless times.

Phil - Great call with My So-Called Life...

Brian - Election and Ghost World rock, and I'm liking Welcome To the Dollhouse each time I see it again...

June 29, 2005 1:29 AM  

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