Oscilloscope brings us an interesting double-feature of documentaries: one about White kids in California, the other about Black kids in Louisiana, both directed by duos, running 80-odd minutes and shot on video.
"Only the Young" is the first of the two, focusing on teenage skateboarders Kevin Conway and Garrison Saenz in Santa Clarita, CA just outside Los Angeles, although directors Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims portray it as a more isolated community- we get a distant glimpse of the Magic Mountain amusement park in one shot, but for the most part the atmosphere is like that of any other small town. Kevin and Garrison are long-time best buds who skateboard any place they can (such as tunnels, large concrete pipes left out in empty spaces, and of course skateparks) and take part in a Christian skating group that visits skateparks with free food and Bibles. In their adventures together they've found a run-down abandoned house in an isolated area where they hang out. Garrison also has an on-and-off girlfriend named Skye who is the third main character here. She has a rather interesting backstory as she has lived with her grandparents most of her life- her father has been in prison and she has never met her mother.
The cameras follow Kevin and Garrison without getting in the way, and they seem comfortable doing what they do with occasional talking and reflecting about their lives to it. The events covered include the two deciding to both dress up as Galdalf (from "The Lord of the Rings") on Halloween, taking a trip with Kevin's dad to Arizona so Kevin can take part in a skating competition, Garrison buying his first car and Kevin preparing for his high school graduation. Time is also spent with Skye, as she gives her thoughts on the pair and her family situation. Garrison breaks up with her during the course of the movie and begins dating another girl, but they remain friends and still hang out together. Unexpectedly, she gets a "friend request" from her mother on Facebook, which she tells the camera isn't really a good way to initiate contact with her. Later her grandparents receive notice that they will have to move out of their house soon, which causes her to break down crying- apparently she was OK with that being shown here.
It isn't very clear from watching "Only the Young" why these people were made the subjects of it (a few questions I had were answered in the commentary track, which I'll discuss later), but you can't help but just enjoy it. The kids appear fairly innocent compared to those in similar productions, using very little foul language and aren't seen abusing drugs. Garrison says that he hasn't even kissed Skye, although it's revealed on camera during one conversation that she did inadvertently end up kissing Kevin once- which is the only time the fact that they're being recorded is acknowledged, as Skye is heard saying off-camera to Kevin after he mentions it: "Yeah, that was pretty awkward, and the fact that you said that on camera kind of makes me upset."
In addition to not showing any sign of pushing or manipulating the subjects, the directors give "Only the Young" a relaxed feel by keeping the camera still during most shots, without a lot of moving it or zooming in and out. The songs included here are unique choices too- although the kids are seen wearing T-shirts of punk bands such as Black Flag, none of that type of music is included. Instead, many scenes are underscored with lesser-known soul records from the early 1970s (I particularly liked hearing Benny Johnson's "Baby I Love You" during a montage of Garrison and another girl on a date at a mini-golf course. This is also discussed in the commentary.) It's also fun watching Kevin and Garrison's appearances change over the few months this was shot- both of them change their hairstyles and colors a number of times. Garrison also wears glasses sometimes, but not always, and looks so different with and without them that I almost thought he was two different people. Ultimately, "Only the Young" provides a unique snapshot of today's teenage life, focusing on subjects who deviate from the cliches we're used to seeing.
Our second feature, "Tchoupitoulas" (pronounced "chop-a-toolas", named for a street in New Orleans) is also shot documentary-styled but appears to be more staged than "Only the Young". Here we meet three real-life brothers- teenage Kentrell and Bryan Zanders with their younger brother William, who take a nighttime ferry boat trip to nearby New Orleans, LA with their dog named Buttercup. The bulk of the movie is spent following them around, taking in the city's unique sights and sounds. Showing these off seem to be the feature's main purpose. As the camera follows the kids along, it also shows us the scenery and people they pass by. Tourguides are often heard speaking to other tourists which also tell the viewers what they are seeing, mentioning historical events like the Louisiana Purchase. A parade also goes by, and there are many street musicians.
There's some amusing moments with William (who is the real star of the show here) talking up a storm while walking along- among other things, he tells his brothers how great he thinks Michael Jackson is, and asks them how tall they would want to be if they could choose, saying that he would be "taller than a skyscraper." His brothers respond mostly with "Shut up, William" and "You're asking too many questions!" However, this doesn't stop William from continuing to keep prodding them. However, directors Bill and Turner Ross shift the focus away from the kids many times. If a band is playing on the street, we get to watch them for a minute or two. When passing by a restaurant, a few minutes are spent showing a man serving oysters to visiting tourists, asking "You ready for what it's gonna to do ya?" Some time is spent watching drunks on a bench conversing. We even get to peek inside some places the kids obviously don't go into, such as the dressing room at a burlesque theater, with some girls getting dressed and eating before going onstage and casually singing "Iko Iko". Also memorable is some drag queens in a bar doing a routine to Tina Turner's "Proud Mary."
Not having been to New Orleans myself, I found "Tchoupitoulas" entertaining, but was a little confused as to what exactly the point of it was supposed to be, and what, if anything, was planned ahead. (This one does not include a commentary track, so it's more difficult to tell.) Especially puzzling is a moment where the kids miss the last ferryboat of the night home, and after making a phone call continue on their adventure later into the night- I don't know if that actually happened, or if it was already decided they would do that.
Both features were shot on video in a 16x9 aspect ratio at 24 frames per second. Both show adequate detail considering they are on standard DVDs, but of course would probably have looked much better on Blu-Ray. "Tchoupitoulas" appears grainy in many scenes due to being shot mostly outside at night.
Both include a choice of 2-channel Pro-Logic and 5.1 Dolby Digital. The 5.1 mixes aren't anything special, with most sound in both features kept up front but that's all the material really calls for.
Both also include subtitles done in SDH style, which are useful especially in "Tchoupitoulas" as a lot of speech in that is incoherent and accompanied by a lot of background noise. The words "chattering" and "indistinct" are used a lot- if you're a captions geek like me you'll recognize these as favorite words of Captions Inc. who did these.
"Only the Young" includes a commentary track with directors Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims along with film journalist Eric Hynes. They give a bit more perspective to the work, saying that they liked having Kevin and Garrison as their subjects because they weren't afraid of doing their own thing, and not into boring "normal" stuff like hanging out at the mall. They say that Skye was the reason this ended up being full-length rather than a short (under 30 minutes) subject- her relationship with Garrison and the other goings-on in her life gave them enough material to make it worthy of the length.
There are also 15 minutes of unused bits, a theatrical trailer and "Thompson", a prior "short film" (actually shot on video, in 4x3) from Tippet and Mims which focuses on a few other teenagers but doesn't get as much in depth given the 9-minute running time.
"Tchoupitoulas" includes a 15-minute "behind the scenes" piece. While the questions I had about it weren't really answered, the Ross brothers explain that they had grown up near New Orleans, moved away and wanted to revisit it by making this film. This is in 16x9 at a 24 frame per second rate, with one video field out of sync. There is also a theatrical trailer.
Both discs open with a brief promo for the Oscilloscope label, and have the following trailers selectable from the menus, split across both discs with none repeated: Unmistaken Child, Tell Them Anything You Want, If a Tree Falls, The Garden, Dark Days, Shut Up and Play the Hits, We Can't Go Home Again, and Exit Through the Gift Shop.
The packaging is rather interesting, with the discs in a cardboard fold-out with photos from one movie covering half of it with the other on the other half, with pockets in each half for the respective discs. Both discs are single-side and single-layer; I've never been a fan of using multiple discs unnecessarily but overlooking that it's a nice package nonetheless.
This release makes for an interesting combination of two different slices-of-life of young people from two different areas of our country. Less patient viewers may wonder what the point of it is, but those who like finding the interesting points of seemingly everyday people will enjoy it.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.