Forever Young is a film about eight decades of youth culture told in the words of people whose ages range from their late-teens to their eighties. These interviews and the film’s title are a powerful reminder of how a sense of being young doesn’t disappear with the passage of time but continues to influence how individuals define themselves across adulthood.
Forever Young was never intended to be a representative account of what it is, or was, to be a teenager. Rather, it is an impressionistic portrayal of teenage lives across the decades, from the 1940s until the present day. The film is intended to challenge generational stereotypes of older and younger people and raise questions of what age means; what it means to be defined as young and what it means to be described as ‘old’.
Many different threads are woven into these stories about what it was and what it is to be a teenager. Some experiences remain strikingly familiar yet others suggest how much life has changed in the past seventy years. For Joan, the oldest interviewee who grew up in the 1940s, the term teenager would have had little meaning, as it was an American description which didn’t really start to be used in Britain until the 1950s.
For Alan, who entered his teens after the Second World War, the excitement of being young was associated with the advent of rock n’ roll. Popular music, from the mid-1950s, gave the young a new language through which to express themselves and assumed an increasingly powerful role in their lives, not just as listeners but as makers of music, as Forever Young highlights, in interviews and on its soundtrack, some of which was composed by two of the film’s participants.
These intimate snapshots of teenage rites of passage, both the mundane and life-changing, suggest the shaping effects of the teen years and the power of teenage experiences to establish patterns and interests, from music to politics, which can last a lifetime. For the younger interviewees, Forever Young illustrates the hesitancies, fragilities and uncertainties of adolescence and the tentative self-making and self-confidence of these transitional years, which for older interviewees are often all the more vivid precisely because a pattern had not yet been set.
Forever Young gives us a taste of what it was and is to be young. Its broad brush strokes can do little more than sketch in some of the family backgrounds and communities from which those interviewed come. Nonetheless,it does suggest how young people’s sense of place has changed and is changing, moving from a local sense of place to a greater sense of the global. What is particularly powerful is the way the film shows how the communality of teen culture is and has been refracted by individuality, by belonging and and by separation.
Forever Young raises questions about changes and continuities in the experiences of teenagers over the past seventy years, about similarities and differences between the experiences of being young in different times, and how recollections of being a teenager might be placed within broader life narratives. It shows how the young and not-so-young can find spaces in which to share understanding of those changes and illustrates the value of encouraging individuals to reflect on how their teenage experiences have shaped or are shaping adult identities.
Manchester Metropolitan University
Forever Young was made with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, as part of Manchester Metropolitan University’s Humanities in Public festival and the nationwide Being Human festival, which is administered by the School of Advanced Study, London. Both festivals highlight the role of the humanities in UK national culture and engage creatively with the public. Forever Young has been shown in venues across north-west England and at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. It combines talking head interviews with archive material from the North West Film Archive and Manchester Metropolitan University. It was inspired by research conducted in the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies and reflects the Centre’s aspiration to highlight the complexity of young people’s lives in ways which contest negative stereotypes of their behaviour, in contemporary society and historically.