The ‘teen film', ‘teen flick' or ‘teenpic' has changed since the 1950s when it started to define itself through Juvenile delinquency films. As was recently commented, ‘the teen flick has lost its shiny innocence and become a cynical brute' (Maher; 2006: 13). Over the course of 50 years, the American teen film evolved from the advent of the teen audience in the 1950s to the nostalgic depictions of youth featured in 1970s film through to the golden age of teen films in the 1980s and finally to the illustrations of Generation X in the 1990s. Films about the young are not necessarily addressed to the young and films addressing the young do not necessarily focus on young characters. But two films, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Kids (1995) stand out in their articulation of the anxieties of teenage angst, gender, and delinquency and the types of stories that are depicted. Indeed, these two films are landmarks of their genre and period. They are very different in their depictions of teenage angst and yet similar in essence to the issue. Undeniably, both were groundbreaking. One sparked a frenzy of identification amongst middle class teenagers and the other was highly controversial in its pseudo-realist and documentary style and raw depiction of teen behavior in urban areas.
[...] This account will serve to trace the variations that occurred in the representation of American teenagers in the 1950s and 1990s film. Rebel Without a Cause, released in 1955, is often said to have defined teenager culture and launched the teen film. Although the image of the rebellious teenager had previously appeared in the form of Marlon Brando with the release of The Wild One (1953) where he famously replied to the question , ‘what are you rebelling against?' with ‘What have you got?', Rebel Without a Cause was groundbreaking in its dealing with the growing pains of adolescence. [...]
[...] It was the choice of James Dean as the lead that was responsible for the film's popularity with the misunderstood and teenagers in general. A student of the 1950s, Derek Marlowe, later wrote: At first the (rebel) hero could have been Brando, until he put on a suit and sang songs just like Dad (in the 1955 hit Guys and Dolls). That was a betrayal. It had to be someone else, someone who would remain permanently young, permanently rebellious . [...]
[...] While the 1950s teen's troubles bear instant relation to the culture of the parents, the 1990s teen, especially in Kids, is seen in relation to his or her surrounding environment. This is helped by the film's decontextualized perspective. Indeed, we know very little of the kids' backgrounds whereas in Rebel Without a Cause we know a lot about the family situation of Jim, Judy and Plato. This puts their problems at the centre of their upbringing. For Kids, the problem, although stemming from the absence of parents, is enhanced and developed through the kids' interaction with society and the urban space. [...]
[...] (1998) ‘Teenage Sexuality, Body Politics, and the Pedagogy of Display' in Epstein, J. S. (1998) Youth Culture: Identity in a Postmodern World, Oxford: Blackwell, pp.32, 40-43. (2002) Breaking in to the Movies. London: Blackwell, pp.170-189. Kreidl, J. (1977) Nicholas Ray. Boston: Twayne p.149, in Shary (2005) Teen Movies: American Youth on Screen. London: Wallflower p.21. Lewis, J. (1992) The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture, London: Routledge, pp Maher, K. (2006) Ghoul for School' in The Times screen supplement, Thursday 4th May, pp. [...]
[...] Therefore, even if the rise of juvenile delinquency in the 1950s and 1990s may not have been as extreme as the media made it to be, both films deeply affected viewers. After all, Rebel Without a Cause's trailer claimed that it would provide ‘entertainment of unforgettable emotional impact!' However, Kids and Rebel Without a Cause are similar beyond their controversy. Both of the film's main protagonists embodied a version of the ‘live fast, die young' philosophy. As Shary (2005b, in Slocum; 2005:226) observed, Jim began the process of identifying teen angst, giving it an image and an etiology, and demonstrating the costs that would inevitably come for future generations of distraught teens. [...]
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