Teenagers And Teenpics

Teenagers And Teenpics: Juvenilization Of American Movies

Thomas Doherty
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14bt168
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  • Book Info
    Teenagers And Teenpics
    Book Description:

    Teenagers and Teenpics tells the story of two signature developments in the 1950s: the decline of the classical Hollywood cinema and the emergence of that strange new creature, the American teenager. Hollywood's discovery of the teenage moviegoer initiated a progressive "juvenilization" of film content that is today the operative reality of the American motion picture industry.The juvenilization of the American movies is best revealed in the development of the 1950s "teenpic," a picture targeted at teenagers even to the exclusion of their elders. In a wry and readable style, Doherty defines and interprets the various teenpic film types: rock 'n' roll pictures, j.d. films, horror and sci-fi weirdies, and clean teenpics. Individual films are examined both in light of their impact on the motion picture industry and in terms of their important role in validating the emerging teenage subculture. Also included in this edition is an expanded treatment of teenpics since the 1950s, especially the teenpics produced during the age of AIDS.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-787-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 American Movies as a Less-than-Mass Medium
    (pp. 1-12)

    Strictly speaking, American motion pictures today are not a mass medium. As any multiplex marquee attests, theatrical movies cater primarily to one segment of the entertainment audience: teenagers. Without the support of the teenage audience, few theatrical movies break even, fewer still become hits, and none become blockbusters. In America, movies reflect teenage, not mass—and definitely not adult—tastes.

    This was not always so. Prior to the mid-1950s, movies were the mass medium of choice for a vast, multigenerational audience that motion picture industry officials invariably envisaged as “the public.” Movies may have “sprung Ramsaye wrote in his landmark...

  5. 2 A Commercial History
    (pp. 13-31)

    In America, moviemaking has always been dependent on commercial validation. With few exceptions—propaganda films mandated by the exigencies of wartime, vanity productions underwritten by wealthy eccentrics, and an always marginal avant-garde cinema—motion picture production responds to the immutable laws of consumer demand. Virtually all movies begin as commodities made for a marketplace—not just commodities, to be sure, but at least commodities.

    In this light, the history of American motion pictures may be viewed as a commercial history, the story of businessmen and entertainers trying to gauge the barometer of public taste for financial profit. Movie patrons voice...

  6. 3 The Teenage Marketplace
    (pp. 32-53)

    In 1904, the pioneering psychologist G. Stanley Hall announced a momentous discovery: the American adolescent. Like America itself, adolescents had always been around, but before Hall no one had taken particular notice of them. In lectures to progressive civic groups and in articles for national magazines, he and a band of energetic followers first popularized the concept of a developmental phase that began with puberty and ended with mature adulthood. Through their efforts, what had previously been “childhood,” “youth,” or “young adulthood” became a distinct experimental realm called “adolescence.”

    For the concept’s originators, adolescence encompassed a much longer phase than...

  7. 4 Rock ʹnʹ Roll Teenpics
    (pp. 54-82)

    Although the old studio system had always produced its share of features with a frankly adolescent appeal—notably Monogram’s juvenile melodramas, Republic’s westerns, and Universal’s science fiction—the Dead End Kids, the sagebrush sagas, and the space patrols were ancillary operations, after-thoughts in a vigorous enterprise whose “money business” lay elsewhere. The postwar period thus found the motion picture industry, if not quite oblivious, then at least unwisely inattentive to teenagers, snubbing the movies’ most devoted patrons as it tried to reentice the popular audience that sustained Hollywood’s classical era. Prior to 1956, there was no industry-wide consensus on the...

  8. 5 Dangerous Youth
    (pp. 83-114)

    WhatBlackboard Jungledid for rock ’n’ roll,Rebel Without a Causedid for drag racing. Released shortly after James Dean plowed his Spyder Porsche into a Ford at a California intersection on September 30, 1955,Rebelremains the touchstone for generational strife in the 1950s. From Dean’s opening cry of animal pain (“You’re tearing me apart!”) to Sal Mineo’s sacrificial snuff-out, the film is awash in soon-to-be archetypal images of teenage angst. Depression-hardened parents who spent their youth at war may have wondered what these well-fed youngsters had to wail about, but for teenagers, the film’s plaintive expression of...

  9. 6 The Horror Teenpics
    (pp. 115-144)

    For exploitation filmmakers,The Curse of Frankensteinwas a blessing. Produced in 1956 by Britain’s Hammer Films and released Stateside by Warner Bros. in July 1957, the stylish $270,000 horror show earned domestic grosses of nearly $2 million by the end of the year. In the process,The Curse of Frankensteinfathered the most prolific and durable of all 1950s exploitation cycles—the horror teenpic. For the next several years, the motion picture industry applied itself to the perfunctory production and imaginative marketing of a disparate collection of immensely profitable teenpic terror that left no film formula unviolated. There was...

  10. 7 The Clean Teenpics
    (pp. 145-186)

    According to Production Code administrator Geoffrey Shurlock, the American motion picture industry owed its international stature to its wholesomeness. In 1956 he informed the Federation of Motion Picture Councils that Hollywood films “occupy 70% of the playing time of the screens of the world” because “the family audience, whether in Santiago or Strasbourg… can go en masse to Hollywood movies without being embarrassed. This is very comforting to the conscience of the industry. Happily, it is also comforting to its pocketbook.” As in the past, the industry’s future lay in purveying good, clean entertainment to the worldwide family of man....

  11. 8 Generation after Generation of Teenpics
    (pp. 187-212)

    In 1958, Arno H. Johnson, vice president and senior economist for the J. Walter Thompson Company, submitted a forecast of “The Economy of 1958–59” that had powerful implications for the motion picture industry. A front-page headline inVarietysummed it up: “Film Future: GI Baby Boom.” According to Johnson, the thirteen- to twenty-one-year-old market had grown from 19.6 million in 1952 to 22.4 million in 1958; an increase to a formidable 30 million was projected for 1965. Johnson informed moviemakers, “The growth of the ‘teen market’ is bound to make itself felt in many areas, but nowhere is it...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 213-236)
  13. Selected Filmography
    (pp. 237-250)
  14. Index to Film Titles
    (pp. 251-258)
  15. General Index
    (pp. 259-266)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-267)