This week's readings | Australasian teenpics


Main screening

In this week's chapter, I write about the fact that teen movies are usually mixed with other genres, so that they are also romances, or comedies, or dramas, and sometimes all of the above.

Teenpics are identified simply as those films which feature periods in the lives of teenagers and/or which deal with topics that concern teenagers (usually both), topics such as sex, parents, school, finding identity, having a good time, sport ... and so on.

Adrian Martin writes that we may "take 'teen movie' to signify any film which deals with the drama or comedy of growing up in a specific social environment" (1989: 12). Note that they may be either dramas or comedies or possibly (usually) both. I intend to show a wide range of types of teen film today.

We begin with something serious, from Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981), which I find is a pretty dismal affair overall. It's from the book by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette. This segment explains graphically who is referred to by the term "mole" (an Australian pronunciation of "moll").

This is a coming-of-age film, which mainly refers to starting to come to terms with relationships with the opposite sex, as well as one's place in the world more generally. But the style of Beresford's film is almost cinema vérité, or documentary. It's not an uplifting experience. [clip "mole" 38.59 - 44.26 (Boysworld)]

As that clip is so depressing, I'll show you a minute from the triumphant ending of the movie. Beresford's film may perhaps be seen as part of the change to the cultural environment which created the conditions of possibility in which women like Layne Beachley could begin their journeys to world championship awards for surfing. [clips "HiFrieda" 1.17.25 - 1.17.50, clip "chicksurf" 1.18.49 - credits (1.27.57)]

The next clip is from the classic Aussie teen comedy flic BMX Bandits (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1983), starring none other than Nicole Kidman at the age of about fifteen. This aspires to be nothing but entertainment. The movie plays endless variations on the teen movie trope that kids are smart and grownups can be real dumb. The three eponymous "BMX bandits" are on the run from the bad guys who want their heist equipment back, but the kids outsmart them and they end up in a ridiculous situation. As this is directed by professional turn-a-profit director Trenchard-Smith, any kind of plausibility is cheerfully sacrified for the sake of spectacle. So, just don't ask why the truck comes equipped with canvas designed to blind the driver, or why anyone would want to spray on fertiliser as foam. Nor what the cast is actually doing in the middle of all the foam while they wait for the police to arrive. This is obviously intended to be a comedy more than anything else. [clip "truck" 1.21.00 - 1.24.03 (new BMX Track)]
Moving on a few years to 1986, we come to Playing Beatie Bow (Donald Crombie, 1986), and this time the mixture includes the supernatural, but the principal impulse is didactic. Here's some history - with a spoonful of sugar. In this scene, from early in the film, we see the moment when the 1973 heroine, played by Imogen Annesley, is transported back in time one hundred years to the Sydney Town of 1873. Note the cars when we first see the church, to compare with the next view of it. (Annesley also stars in Howling III: The Marsupials, in which she gives birth to some sort of joey, which then finds its way into her pouch!) The story has action-adventure elements built in (Abigail jumps from a burning house) and of course romance: given that a young and attractive version of Peter Phelps (Teesh and Trude) is billed as the male lead. But I think that the film's main intention is didactic: it's a lesson in social history. The other girl you see in the clip, Beatie Bow, is played by Mouche Phillips, who has done almost all of her work on TV. [clip "church" 11.26 - 14.44 (Phelps appears)]
One of the key scenes in all teen romances is of course "meeting the parents", or more specifically, the boy meeting the father of the girl. Here's the version of that trope from The Big Steal (Nadia Tass, 1990). This is a mainly romantic comedy, with some action adventure elements. It's as much a "boy meets car" film as a "boy meets girl". Ben Mendelsohn is on a first date with Claudia Karvan and he meets her father, played by Tim Robertson. [clip "father" 22.55 - 26.08]
Now we go back to 1957, and Love in Limbo (David Elfick, 1993). This is a comedy, the best feature of which is the production design. The clip I've set up is brief, so look out for the colours in the kitchen and the patterns on the girls' dresses. The film is set and shot in Perth and Kalgoorlie, and features a number of well-known and recognisable locations. The central character is Ken Riddle, who is obsessed with sex, as we see in this brief fantasy scene at school, followed by a scene in the kitchen. [clip "teacher" 6.23 - 8.57]
Here's another obsessed young man, this time Noah Taylor in The Nostradamus Kid (Bob Ellis, 1993), a film written, narrated, directed by and about the life of the lugubrious Bob Ellis, former Seventh Day Adventist and now a well-known intellectual and egocentric. As I write in this week's chapter, it's as much of a biopic (a biographical picture) as anything else. [clip "clap" 46.01 - 47.18]

If we have time, we might finish with the last scene of Whale Rider (Niki Caro, 2002). The child, only barely a teenager, actually becomes an authority figure, as she acknowledges her chiefly status. [clip "Paikea" 1.30.38 - 1.34.00 to end]

The movie's plot follows the story of Paikea Apirana (or Kahutia Te Rangi, in the book) at the age of 12, who is the only living child in the line of the tribe's chiefly succession because of the death of her twin brother and mother during childbirth. By tradition, the leader should be the first-born son—a direct patrilineal descendant of Paikea, the one who rode atop a whale from Hawaiki. However, Pai is female.

New: 30 April 2004 | Now: 19 December, 2010