‘Youth’ is the second short film from writer and director Jane Linfoot. Made in 2007, the film was a part of The Directors Lab and was screened at both the Edinburgh and Los Angeles film festivals. Since ‘Youth’ Linfoot has gone on to create her third short film ‘On Your Own’ and is now in the process of writing her debut feature.
The nineteen minute short is split into three sections, each focusing on a different form of youth in one way or another.
The first section of the film focuses on a gothic looking boy, who we see dance wildly around his room and then pretend to kiss his bedroom mirror as his father watches. This scene begins with a close-up of the teenage boy asleep in his bed, with the diegetic sound of high-heels and a female voice in the background. The camera then focuses on a large mug being placed on a small bedside table by who we assume to be the boy’s mother. She then opens the curtains allowing naturalistic lighting to flow into the room, as she exits the frame, signalling her absence from both the youth’s room and the house itself.
We then see the boy get out of bed and put a record on as he wrestles himself into a pair of black skinny jeans. These jeans along with his jet black hair give the stereotypical representation of a ‘goth’ or ‘emo’ while also showing the boy’s rebellious streak. The scene is overexposed with the bright lighting creating a bleached, nostalgic look which leaves the boy looking almost porcelain, beautifying his teenage years.
We are alerted to the time period in which this section is set through the mise-en-scene of the room and the costume the characters are wearing. The wallpaper has a retro, 70’s feel while the old-fashioned vinyl record player helps to add to the overall time period. The boy then begins to dance wildly to the diegetic music that he has put on. The music has a heavy base guitar, signifying the punk culture of which this boy is obviously a part of.
As the boy turns the music up he reaches for a polaroid camera which he begins to take pictures of himself with. This act represents his vanity while also signifying to the audience that the boy is exploring his sexuality, with the boy being shirtless and posing provocatively. We then see the boy place the photos in a book and out of sight, showing his secretive side.
Once the photos are hidden away we see the boy begin to tighten a belt around different parts of his body. First of all, the belt is tied around his neck and his arms are folded showcasing the entrapment he is feeling, either as a prisoner of his sexuality or as a prisoner of his parents smothering him. Next the boy wraps the belt tightly around his left arm, causing a vein to rise to the surface, this act brings to mind the issue of drug abuse, in particular heroin and could signify the boy’s use of it or his desire to. The final thing the boy does with the belt is wrap it around his neck as he imitates hanging himself. The use of the belt in this scene raises many possible themes, most noticeably suicide, body issues and drug abuse.
After mucking around with the belt, the boy approaches his bedroom mirror seductively. We then see him begin to dramatically kiss his reflection. This sequence again explores the boy’s sexuality and signifies how he is trying to find both himself and his sexual oritentation.
This first section of the film is brought to an end by the boy’s father walking in on him as he is kissing his reflection. The boy then stops in his tracks as he notices his father standing behind him, staring at him emotionlessly. The boy’s father then leaves the room as the boy is left feeling embarrassed by what his father has just witnessed.
The middle section of the film focuses on two female characters, an older girl around the age of 16 and a younger girl aged about 12. We don’t know the relationship between the two girls but we assume they are sisters. This section of the film is set at a leisure centre where we see the two girls go swimming; it is here that we see the older girl begin a flirtation with a teenage boy and we notice the young girl’s insecurity regarding her weight.
This second section begins with a mid-shot of the two girls chatting. The older of the two girls has her back to the camera while the younger girl is sat facing the camera in her swimming costume. The choice of costume each of the girls are wearing helps to establish their ages with the older of the two wearing a revealing bikini with lots of jewellery, while the younger girls opts to be covered up in a swimming costume, hat and goggles, the younger girl’s choice of costume hinting towards her body insecurities. It appears as if the two are talking about the older girl’s boyfriend with the younger girl asking about kissing. The young girl then goes on to tell her sister that the colour of her bikini doesn’t suit her however the older girl insists that she likes the colour.
As the two begin their walk from the changing rooms to the pool we hear the diegetic sound of water splashing, as the older girl spitefully asks her sister “When’s it due?” The girl then laughs and walks off. The shot then cuts to a close-up of the young girl whose reaction to the remark is one of hurt and upset, we can see from her facial expression how much the insult has affected her. This shot highlights the theme of body issues and raises the issue of obese children, a story often brought to our attention by today’s media. This shot is then brought to a close by the screen fading to black, this acting as an ellipsis to show a pass in time and to help move the story on.
After the ellipsis we are introduced to a teenage boy, who we assume is the older girl’s boyfriend. We see the boy washing his hands with the camera focusing on his torso; it is here we notice that the boy himself isn’t particularly slim. The camera then cuts to the older girl sitting on the edge of the pool, with her feet dangling over the edge, looking anxiously towards the changing rooms. The boy who we saw washing his hands then jumps into the pool, much to the girl’s delight. The younger of the two girls is then seen peeping around a wall, too embarrassed about her weight to enter the swimming pool.
Back in the pool the girl and her boyfriend are kissing, suggesting how far she is ahead of her sister in both age and her sexual development. The camera then cuts back to the girl in the changing rooms, this time we see a wide shot of the girl, this showing her isolation and loneliness. We are then back with the older girl and her boyfriend, who are floating on their backs, showing their carefree attitude to life. Linfoot then shows the younger of the two girls in a series of close-ups, the first shot showing her holding a packet of crisps and the second a head and shoulders shot showing the girls contemplation over whether to eat the crisps or not. The final and possibly most important shot focuses on the girl’s stomach, highlighting how she feels about her weight after her sister’s comment but also the temptation that is there to eat the crisps. However the girl holds back and resists temptation, her resisting bringing the issue of anorexia amongst young girls and how they are influenced by stick thin models and celebrities to the foreground.
In the pool, the older girl and her boyfriend are seen mucking around when suddenly he dunks the girl’s head under water, an underwater shot is then used to show the girl’s panic as he does this. The girl then comes up for air and pushes the boy away, seeing what he has done not as funny, but instead as malicious and immature; this seems to spell the end of their relationship. The young girl is now pictured in the changing room eating her crisps and drinking a bottle of Fanta.
The final section of ‘Youth’ is the most mediated out of the three and possibly the most stereotypical with this section following three male thugs, one of whom is carrying a knife. This section focuses on peer pressure with the alpha male of the group pressuring one of the other boys into giving him the knife, it is from here the situation escalates with this section and the film ending on a cliff-hanger, with the audience wondering whether the knife was actually used.
The section begins with a high angled shot showing three male characters dressed in what appears to be school uniform, they are seen walking up the stairs of a bus where they sit at the very back as this is where the “top dogs” and the “hard kids” sit. As they walk along the deck, heading towards the back, a father and his little boy are shown walking down the stairs of the bus with the little boy wearing an animal mask. We are then shown the three teenagers sitting at the back of the bus, shouting swear words and making rude gestures out the window to a gang on the street; their actions a stereotypical representation of gang identity, with the boys being aggressive and rebellious. The boy’s costumes also help to add to their identity with their school uniforms being messy and not to a high standard, with all three having short ties and the two black youths each wearing a diamond stud in their ear. The regional identity of the boy’s is also shown through their strong London accents and their use of colloquial language often associated with gang culture. The overcast, washed out colour palette of the scene and naturalistic lighting also suggests the inner city location in which the piece is set.
A close-up editorial sequence is then shown to the audience, depicting the only white boy in the group holding a knife, this highlighting his role as ringleader within the group. The use of the knife brings to mind the issue of gang violence and knife crime, with these issues being widely covered by today’s media. One of the other boys then begins to ask the boy with the knife, whose name is now established as John, to give him the knife. As the boys continue to argue, a group of teenage girls walk onto the bus wearing the same school uniform as the boys. The boy’s age, gender and sexuality are clearly represented in the following sequence with all three boys gazing at the girls as they chat animatedly. One of the boys then asks another if he likes the girls causing the other one to quip he can’t as he is gay, causing a fight to break out between the three. The footage is now handheld to follow the fight and to create tension with the white youth struggling for breath. The fight is then interrupted by the sound of a mobile phone. The two black boys then begin to argue over who is going to answer the phone while the camera is focused on the white male using an asthma pump. As the boy is using his pump, the other boys begin to become more violent and aggressive causing an adult male to turn round, disgusted in their behaviour. One of the boys then tries to pressure John into stabbing the stranger, however the stranger leaves before it’s too late after he is hit by a fizzy drink can thrown by one of the boys.
John then gets up out of his seat to look out of the opposite window but as he does he is grabbed by one of the other boys who places a plastic bag over his head, John then struggles to breathe as he asks the boy to leave him alone. We then see John flick open his pocket knife as the diegetic sounds fade away. The final shot is a close-up of the empty drinks can rolling around on the floor of the bus, leaving the audience to wonder what John did with the knife.
Overall this short presents many areas of representation and brings a wide variety of themes and issues to the foreground, most noticeably the pressures facing teenagers today. However I couldn’t help but feel that this film is fairly stereotypical in their characters, particularly in the last section with the characters being a stereotypical representation of yob culture with the way in which they dress and talk showing this.