20 March, 2010

Don't You Forget About BIFF’s teen movies

One of the most popular strands at this year's Film Festival is "Don't You Forget About Me", a retrospective of six perfect teen movies from the 1950s to the 1990s.

It features six much-loved films across three generations - Rebel Without A Cause, Dirty Dancing and The Breakfast Club among others - it sparks memories of teen awkwardness and alienation, rebellion against authority and insights into the seemingly cool American teen landscape.

Tom Vincent, one of the Museum's film programmers, explains his choice of movies for the strand; "these films aren't in the critical canon, but they continue to engage broad audiences and I think they’re well worth exploring".

He constructed a wishlist of films and by a process of elimination whittled the list down to six great examples of the genre. "I think we’ve got a good range of movies. I would have liked more from the 1950s, such as The Blackboard Jungle and Marlon Brando's The Wild One, but I think we're showing a great range of films that strike a chord."

One such film is Pump Up The Volume from 1990, one of the later films in the strand, featuring a young Christian Slater as an anonymous college kid by day, renegade DJ inflaming the town's authorities by night.

"It's one of the most sincere films in the genre," Tom explains, "It holds up well because unlike many teen films from that era, the characters and in particular the soundtrack don't patronise the intended audience". Compare Simple Minds’ “Don't You Forget About Me” from The Breakfast Club to Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows", a song that recurs throughout Pump Up The Volume, and it’s clear that the Slater film was made to stand the test of time rather than to focus on a more momentary trend.

The strand is bookended by two contextual movies, the quintessential outsider movie Rebel Without a Cause from 1955, and Welcome To The Dollhouse 40 years later.

With Rebel Without a Cause Tom explains "it chimed perfectly with what was to become the baby boomer generation, and that gulf of understanding between kids and their parents’ generation. Teenagers wanted to see someone ‘cool’ railing against 'The Man'." Rebel Without a Cause supplied this to the newly-independent teen demographic.

In contrast, Welcome to the Dollhouse by Todd Solondz is a conscious attempt, in Tom's words, "to kill the genre by pushing the alienated ‘ugly duckling’ scenario as far as it’ll go. By exaggerating the setup, Solondz makes the audience look again at how the genre works. The fact that the film is genuinely funny as well as painful shows that he got it just right".

Teen movies are now in a healthy position but are a different beast to the earlier cycles. "The female characters are much stronger - look at the Twilight series of movies for example, or the film that came out at the same year as Welcome to the Dollhouse, Clueless, which spawned a several imitators of its own. Girl characters are more assertive now, the ‘jock’ types are marginalised and the ‘outsider’ male lead has morphed into more of an inclusive 'metrosexual’."


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