Timothy Shary

One of the best youth films released in the United States in 2005 was an unassuming drama called The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which follows four teenage girls from the U.S. as they explore different locales during a high school summer. In Greece, Lena (Alexis Bledel) encounters both fascination and frustration with her relatives, who oppose her romance with a local boy. In Mexico, Bridget (Blake Lively) shows off her great athletic skills at soccer camp, even though her interest in a coach takes up most of her attention. Carmen (America Ferrera) travels to North Carolina (although the actual location is in Canada), hoping to enjoy the summer with her estranged father, only to be disappointed by his preoccupation with getting married to a woman she does not know. And Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) stays in their hometown in Maryland, working a local job to fund her true passion, making documentary movies. Across these distances, the girls remain connected by sending a pair of pants through the mail that somehow, despite their different body sizes, fits them all.

Sisterhood is a Hollywood movie to be sure, and yet its ability to explore teenage life across different cultures and through different families is a refreshing step forward in the depiction of adolescent experience. When Hollywood has focused on characters between childhood and adulthood, the films tend to follow the dreams of success and popularity that many young people share, and youth culture is portrayed as primarily white, middle class, non-religious, suburban, and fun. At the same time, teenagers around the world are navigating their ways to adulthood through a much greater diversity of experiences, and the U.S. films that explore youth beyond the mainstream tend to be made within the American independent film market, outside the studio system.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005). Left to right: Carmen (America Ferrera), Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Lena (Alexis Bledel), and Bridget (Blake Lively).

Hollywood has been predominantly ethnocentric, concerned about the stories of U.S. citizens and only occasionally looking out to "foreign" lands, even as the vast majority of the world's population lives outside the U.S. And Hollywood's appeal to youth is essentially for profit, since young people constitute such a high portion of the moviegoing audience. Yet the stories of youth after childhood are quite compelling, since the coming-of-age process is familiar to all cultures and classes of people. Films made in the global marketplace illustrate this abundantly: adolescence and puberty are common subjects in many movies.1

In fact, cultural concerns about youth in the international media have been amply evident for decades. From the infamous Payne Fund studies in the U.S. during the 1930s, which were misguided efforts to "protect" youth from movies, to the seizures suffered by Japanese children watching Pokemon on television in the late '90s, both scientists and scholars—and especially parents—have questioned and explored how young people are affected by media. Numerous studies and books have been written on the negative and positive effects of media on youth, who are so often considered vulnerable to media messages, both because media industries target them and because their minds are thought to be particularly impressionable.

Yet not nearly as much time or effort has been expended in examinations of how youth are represented by the media. A number of pop culture books have looked at the happy days of child stars in the '30s and '40s, as well as young television actors in recent years, but there have been strikingly few serious studies of how the pre-adult population is portrayed by the adults who control media the world over. In fact, serious studies of adolescence in U.S. cinema only began in the 1980s, with such books as The Cinema of Adolescence by David Considine (1985) and Teenagers and Teenpics: The Ju-venilization of American Movies in the 1950s by Thomas Doherty (1988; revised 2002). Since then, a few more studies of teenagers in U.S. films have appeared, including The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture, by Jon Lewis (1992), and my own Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema (2002). Nonetheless, this growing scholarship on youth cinema is paltry compared to the multitude of studies of other film roles whose real-life equivalents are much less common, such as gangsters, cowboys, monsters, and soldiers. One could easily draw the conclusion that, despite the cultural concerns for how young people may use media, the image of youth on screen is of little interest to adults.

This anthology is intended to change that perspective, since all of the essays contained herein are written by established academics who take seriously the stakes of representing youth. This is also the first time that a collection on young adult roles in international cinema has been published in English.2 Occasionally, some "classic" youth films have generated analysis in the past, primarily due to the surrounding oeuvre of their stars and/or directors; examples include Los Olvidados (Luis Buñuel, Mexico, 1950), Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, U.S., 1955), Aparajito/The Unvanquished (Satyajit Ray, India, 1957), Les Quatre cents coups/The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, France, 1959), Ivanovo detstvo/Ivan's Childhood (Andrei Tarkov-sky, Soviet Union, 1962), Walkabout (Nicholas Roeg, Australia, 1971), Diabolo menthe/Peppermint Soda (Diane Kurys, France, 1977), Mitt liv som hund/My Life as a Dog (Lasse Hallstrom, Sweden, 1985), Au revoir les en-fants/Goodbye Children (Louis Malle, France, 1987), and Europa Europa (Agnieszka Holland, Poland, 1990). This anthology looks at other youth films that have primarily achieved significance through what they say about young people and the culture around them. We sought out essays that were not strictly representative studies of certain popular titles or national traditions, but rather, essays that would illuminate the many conditions under which youth live around the world and that would generate dialogue on how those youth are represented in movies.

To gain an appreciation for the sheer number and range of youth films made throughout the world, I worked with our contributors to compile a filmography of as many feature films that we could find which focused on one or more young characters in adolescence or puberty (see Appendix A). This resulted in a list of over 700 titles, which I then researched in an effort to determine the films' themes (see Appendix B). (Even though some U.S. films are examined and mentioned in certain essays, no U.S. titles are listed in the filmography; U.S. teen films from 1980 to 2001 are listed in my Generation Multiplex book.)

Despite its potential limitations—we have likely missed some examples, and I could not find ample descriptions of many films—the filmography reveals numerous interesting trends and themes in international youth cinema. As in U.S. teen films, the most common characterizations of youth globally are in terms of delinquency, and we thus begin the book with essays that examine themes of youth resistance and rebellion, wherein crimes and misdemeanors range from casual drug use and petty theft to rape and murder. Teenagers are not always the perpetrators of delinquent acts, however. In an alarming number of films, young people are abused by their peers and adults, and incest occurs at a rather high rate as well.

Unlike U.S. teen films, many international youth films deal with topics of politics and religion, and more often, with tensions around cultural and national identity. The next two sections of the book examine such issues, identifying a wide variety of desires and conflicts that young people face in their social and spiritual lives. Adults create laws, establish churches, and start wars; many films show us that children are often the most affected by these phenomena.

Of course, adolescence and puberty are times of intense sexual development for young people as well, and global cinema offers a wide range of experiences that youth encounter during that development. We thus take up topics related to gender in the next two sections, focusing first on issues of gender distinctions, and concluding the book with a section that specifically addresses queer youth. Many films celebrate, and often exploit, the youthful discovery of sex, and given its vast variety of motives and results, we see young people not only losing their virginity but also questioning their sexual orientation, dealing with pregnancy, and occasionally finding pleasure. Fortunately, most films in recent years have shown an improving maturity about the topic of youthful sexuality, offering sympathy and sensitivity.

The 17 essays herein are written by scholars from 11 different national backgrounds, and they discuss films from numerous global perspectives.3 Such a diverse range of geographical coverage parallels the range of topics featured in these essays, for while they all discuss films featuring young char acters, each has a unique focus. Thus we did not require our contributors to follow a common methodology of analysis. Some of the essays offer close readings of films, while others examine advertising and reception or explore psychological issues; some delve into historical documents, while others are more personal reflections.

We were not able to represent every important depiction of adolescent life in international cinema over the past century. We also anticipate that some readers will disagree with and challenge many of the ideas presented here. At the same time, we have endeavored to collect essays that are all cogent and stimulating in their arguments about youth in international cinema, and we hope that this anthology will only be the start of much more research on the roles of youth in global media. In time, we also hope that the culture shock many adults face in looking at young people, and that many young people face in looking at each other, will be alleviated through an authentic understanding of global youth culture at large. Such an understanding is the primary goal of this book.

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