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Exploitation Cinema: Teenage Graffiti & Teenage Mother
Those rascally teenagers. As long as they've been around they've been a constant source of trouble for their parents - always up to no good with their frolicking and experimenting, their incessant dancing and their love of rock and roll. Those same rascally teens also make up a huge part of the movie going demographic so it only made sense that when the floodgates of drive-in's across the world were stampeded by teenage denizens that filmmaker's would exploit their largest target audience in any way possible. It's a practice that still goes on today, as is evidenced with all the films that hit multiplexes geared towards a teenage audience, but it's rare that the modern efforts are as interesting or as gleefully trashy as the ones that were pumped out in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Need more proof? Read on...
Teenage Graffiti (1977):
Josh (Michael Driscoll) lives a pretty happy life in the small town where he helps out on the family farm. When the film starts, he's just finished his last year of high school and is getting ready to go to attend college. He spends his summer days hanging out skinny dipping and cruising around town with his friend. As a graduation gift, his foster parents give him a fancy sports car, which makes their actual kids jealous as they understandably feel that mom and dad treat Josh better than their own flesh and blood. Josh also winds up becoming quite close with a wealthy family who live on the other side of town, the Carters. As he grows closer with them, he gets into an altercation with them and decides to split town. His father offers to put him in charge of the farm in hopes that it'll keep him around, but it's to no avail. This, however, makes his foster siblings even more jealous and they try to kill him.
Melodramatic to a fault, Teenage Graffiti is interesting in how it attempts to tackle the real world issue of sibling rivalry and familial jealousy. Josh's foster brothers don't just dislike him, they actually try and kill the guy, obviously suffering from some very deeply fostered resentment issues. That said, that's pretty much where the 'interesting' side of Teenage Graffiti stops, as the film suffers from some serious pacing issues and doesn't really go anywhere for the first half of its running time. Once the plot picks up the finale is entertaining enough but getting there can be a chore unless you've got an affinity for seventies fashion and the camp value that it can sometimes offer (and this film definitely does offer that up in spades).
Aside from the camp value, however, Teenage Graffiti doesn't offer up much in the way of the expected teen shenanigans, or any graffiti for that matter. As is typical of the genre quite a few of the actors look older than they're supposed to which makes some of the scenes unintentionally amusing, but this is a decidedly average film in pretty much every way. Despite the pacing problems there's some okay camerawork, some welcome if gratuitous nudity and some melodramatic dialogue to enjoy, but you'll likely forget about it soon after you've finished.
You can't say the same about the second feature, however...
Teenage Mother (1967):
Jerry Gross' directorial debut follows the exploits of a curvy high school student named Arlene (played by a real life Arlene named Arlene Sue Farber) who hangs out with her squeaky clean boyfriend, Tony (Howard Le May) while wondering what to do about the salacious advances of a local greaser type named Duke (Frederick Ricco) who drives around town swigging J&B out of the bottle and who has some of the finest dance moves ever committed to celluloid. When the school year starts, a new sex education teacher named Erika Peterson (Julie Ange) causes some controversy in the town by teaching the kids about anatomy and how it works.
While Arlene fakes a pregnancy to trap Tony into staying with her, Duke's drug dealing boss fears that Ms. Peterson's teachings will dig into his profitable pornography picture business and so he gets his greaser thug and a strange janitor to set her up. Once Arlene tells everyone she's been knocked up, however, the parents start to hold Ms. Peterson liable for a lot more than they realistically ever should have even considered. Thank goodness there's a nice guy couch (Fred Willard) around to help!
Now this is more like it. You want trash? You've got it. Tough talking, bad dancing greaseballs? Nutty janitors? Sexy Swedish sex education teachers? Fred Willard? Puritanical hypocritical parents? Random J&B bottles? Yeah, it's all here and more - a lot more. For the uninitiated, Teenage Mother is pretty infamous for a tacked on ending in which the audience witnesses a very real and very uncut film showing a live birth. It's all here, kids, snips and all. Preaching to its audience from a fairly lofty perch, the picture purports to deliver a social message about why kids should abstain or at the very least play it safe, but it's been made so cheaply and marketed with such a sleazy, hyper-sexualized marketing campaign (be sure to watch the trailer which completely misrepresents the film in every way possible) that all of that gets thrown aside. Why? Because it's obvious that all of this build up and moralizing was simply an excuse to bust out some really graphic footage of a baby popping its way out of some gooey female genitalia.
You can almost hear Gross saying 'gotcha' when it's all said and done but at least it's a fun ride.
Teenage Graffiti is presented in anamorphic 1.85.1 while Teenage Mother is shown in 1.78.1. Both films show some wear and tear and don't appear to have undergone any serious restoration but the sources seem to have been in decent shape despite some minor print damage. Teenage Graffiti looks a little worse than the other film and you'll notice more damage and debris in addition to some softness here than on Teenage Mother, which benefits from a cleaner, strong picture. The aspect ratio for Teenage Mother seems questionable, however, as some scenes look a bit off or a bit too tight, indicating that this might have been meant for a fullframe presentation. Regardless, if it is overmatted it doesn't really ruin anything, and both pictures are quite watchable - just accept the quirks as part of the pictures' charm.
Both movies feature English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtracks that have some occasional background hiss and a few random pops here and there but which are otherwise perfectly fine for what they are. Range is obviously limited by the source material but the levels are properly balanced and you'll have no problems understanding the dialogue.
Teenage Mother includes a commentary track from comedy troupe Cinema Head Cheese made up of Jeff Dolniak, Kevin Moyer and David Hayes. This is an entertaining enough track and you get the feeling that you're sitting down watching a movie with some friends as they periodically spout off amusing observations about the movie and those who made it. They take the obvious pot shots at the film's more ridiculous aspects, like Duke's crackhead dance number and some of the actors' performances but it's all in good fun and you can tell that these guys have a genuine affinity for the material.
Aside from that, there are also trailers for the features (the spot for Teenage Mother is CLASSIC!) and for a few other Code Red releases. Menus and chapter stops are included for each movie.
An interesting collection of drive-in era 'teensploitation' pictures, the Exploitation Cinema double feature of Teenage Graffiti and Teenage Mother may not look or sound as pristine as some may way, but it does preserve these musty cinematic relics for posterity's sake. Trash movie fans will eat this stuff up and as goofy and screwy as this pairing is, it's also a lot of fun. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.