Page to Screen: Teenage (2013)

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Teenage
based on the book by Jon Savage

★★★½☆

2013 • 77 minutes • Oscilloscope Laboratories

How many ways can you actually make a documentary?

I mean, in that most perfect world, one would assume the genre variations are practically infinite. IFC’s loving parody Documentary Now! has found six ways to riff on the genre, with more to come in its second season. (I haven’t seen a frame of that series and I want to see it so bad.) And yet, most mainstream documentaries tend to stick to the talking heads (be it interviews or readings from primary sources) and footage (be it a primary source or a reconstruction) model.

Teenage sticks to that model as well, but just barely. The readings from primary sources are thrown into a blender and poured into a handful of vaguely distinct archetypes—a white American girl, a white British boy, an African-American boy, and a white German girl—all voiced by professional and, in the cases of Jena Malone and Ben Whishaw, high-profile actors. These archtypes end up functioning as a pack of royal teen wes, staying the same age from the 1900s to the 1950s (the eras Matt Wolf and company have contemporary footage of). Their words are paraphrased from primary sources in a script meant to hit the high points of Jon Savage’s original book, except when they’re taken from the autobiographies of contemporary teenagers. Those segments are illustrated not with the original footage dug up for the film, but recreations that are only distinguishable as such by their well-fed actors and slightly too high quality.

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Page To Screen: We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

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We Need To Talk About Kevin
based on the novel by Lionel Shriver

★★★★☆

2011 • 112 minutes • Oscilloscope Laboratories

Literary fiction, as a genre, often baffles me. Not in the sense that it is a genre—redundant and semantically superfluous as the term actually is, there’s enough stylistic and content similarities that we really do need to have a name for contemporary fiction that deals almost solely with the interior lives of often quite privileged characters. Or, to put it as bluntly as Erin Callahan has in the past, the worst literary fiction consists of “love letter[s] to privilege and ennui.” Rather, what baffles me is that it’s often used not to indicate that actual genre, but that something is acceptable in the mainstream while ghettoizing the genre it actually belongs to. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out accessible texts to people who normally don’t read a certain genre, but when it’s used to cherry pick from and then ignore an entire genre, that’s when I get angry.

So I sometimes forget about what literary fiction actually is at its core, without all of that silly privileging and labeling, and it takes a film to remind me. Last time, it was the astonishing A Single Man and this time it’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.

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