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.