Forever Young was made with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, as part of both MMU’s own 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. Shown in venues across north-west England and at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Combining talking head interviews with archive material from the North West Film Archive, Forever Young 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, both in in contemporary society and historically.
Forever Young, as the title suggests, is about being young. Some of the interviewees are at the start of their adult lives. Others look back on their teen years from the vantage point of many decades distance. 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, as individuals age and leave their youth behind; it remains strong, albeit coloured with the advantage of hindsight and a sense of how those younger years may have shaped the adult ones.
Forever Young was never intended to be a representative account of what it is, or was, to be a teenager. Rather, it’s an impressionistic portrayal of teenage lives across the decades, from the 1940s until the present day. The oldest participant is in her eighties. The youngest is in her late teens. We hope the film challenges generational stereotypes of older and younger people and raises questions of what age means; what it means to be defined as young, and what it means to be described as ‘old’. Most importantly, we hope Forever Young will act as a catalyst for similar, more in-depth projects, which encourage dialogue between the generations and approach the theme of how teenage lives have changed across time in different inventive ways.
A desire to explore the everyday aspects of being a teenager, rather than the sensational, helped inspire Forever Young. Many different threads are woven into the stories that the film tells, about what it was and 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; in Britain, it didn’t really start to enter popular culture 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; the start of a process whereby music assumed an increasingly dominant role in the lives of many young people, as Forever Young highlights, not only in the interviews, but on the soundtrack, some of which was composed by two of the film’s participants. The film’s testimony suggests the shaping effects of the teen years and the power of those 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; the tentative self-making and self-confidence of these transitional years, all the more vivid precisely because a pattern has not yet been set.
Forever Young gives us a taste of these lives. With extensive use of footage from MMU’s North West Film Archive, its broad brush strokes sketch in some of the family backgrounds and communities from which those interviewed come; contrasts between very local experiences and international ones, which suggest how a sense of place has changed over time. What is particularly powerful is a sense of both the communality and individuality of belonging and separation, in youth and old age; intimate tales of teenage rites of passage, both the mundane and life-changing.
We hope Forever Young will encourage those who watch it to consider similarities and differences between shared experiences of being young in different times; to think about how recollections of being a teenager might be placed within broader life narratives. We hope the seeds sewn in a project like this might contribute to broader debates about changes and continuities in the experiences of teenagers over the past seventy years and show how the young and not-so-young can find spaces in which to share understanding of those changes.
Finally, we hope the film may encourage those who watch it to reflect on their own teenage lives. To encourage them to think about how those experiences have shaped or are shaping the adult they are becoming, or have become.