Chloé Galibert-Laîné’s text describes a familiar, quotidian experience: a group of teenagers leaves a movie theater and walks through the streets of an unnamed town, inspired by the film and by each other’s company. The text evokes a feeling, a sentiment, a state of mind that will immediately trigger personal memories in most of us. The text radiates a nostalgic longing for the absolute and utter presentness that one can experience as an adolescent. When we get older, when time seems to move at a different speed, this memory, the pastness of experienced presentness, haunts us. At that age, you can feel invincible in the company of your friends but also silly, insecure, ecstatic, afraid, all at the same time. It is both sweet and painful to think about these memories, perhaps, as the author seems to imply in her last sentence, even more so in times of the pandemic when group experiences have become more rare.
When I read the text, I immediately saw specific images before my eyes: feet touching the ground while running through the darkness, dimly lit streets in an empty town late at night. I could hear the “screeching” young voices, screaming and laughing out in jubilant excitement. In my head they mixed with my own teenage memories, with songs I associate with that age and with that feeling, as well as with images and sounds from coming-of-age films I watched back then—films that gave me the greatest fear of missing out when I was home alone and that made me chase those experiences of being totally present with friends even more.
Now and Then (Lesli Linka Glatter, 1995) and Sleepers (Barry Levinson, 1996), two films from the 1990s focusing on groups of teenagers in the late 1960s/early 1970s, are neither among the most praised or well-known coming-of-age and/or teen films, nor are they the only ones connecting a general sense of teenage nostalgia with generational nostalgia for a specific time in history. Numerous more famous films have done the same, such as Dirty Dancing, Stand by Me, Mermaids, American Graffiti, Grease, Peggy Sue Got Married, Lady Bird, Licorice Pizza. Yet, those two, which I first watched as a young teen myself, spoke to me in particular because they formalize this duality of pastness and presentness (the literal “then” and “now”) through two temporal planes: one set in the time of the films’ production, centered on the adult protagonists, one set in their teenage years, both connected through flashback narrations by one of the main characters.
The two films focus on same-sex groups of four (four boys in Sleepers, four girls in Now and Then). Both feature the Vietnam war and/or anti-war protests as brief historical background markers. The more prominent historical points of identification emerge through fashion and pop culture, especially non-diegetic and diegetic uses of 60s pop songs. As such, Sleepers begins with the drum intro to The Four Seasons’ “Walk Like a Man” (as does my video)—an immediate catapult into a particular time and sensibility. While the two films differ in their settings (Now and Then takes place in a middle-class suburban environment, Sleepers in a working-class milieu in Hell’s Kitchen), they similarly first set up a relatively carefree summer, involving lots of outdoor activities, and then increasingly delve into trauma, family problems, and the domestic and structural abuse that the protagonists experience and witness, with Sleepers actually turning into a dark legal drama. Exacerbated by the flashback narratives, the depictions of the characters’ personal traumas and the societal, political, and cultural upheaval of the time evoke a sense of shame and guilt, as well as a pained longing for the innocence that was lost and/or robbed.
By connecting these two films with Galibert-Laîné’s text and her recorded reading of it, I aimed to join both individual and collective mnemonic associations between youth and adulthood, between personal experiences and cinematic imaginations, perhaps even between the three historic moments featured or implied in the material: the 60s, the 90s, and the here and now. I tried to emulate these dualities (the two temporal planes, the duality of text and video, of writer and video maker, and of the before and after of traumatic events) by structuring it into two parts. The first half illustrates the emotional intensity and enthusiasm I took from the text, whereas the second half presents a reversal of that first sentiment through the depictions of trauma in the films. I understand the concept of my video and of this collection overall as a form of interpersonal exchange of associations between someone else’s memory and one’s own, as well as with our collective cultural, mediated, and filmic memory.
Evelyn Kreutzer is a postdoctoral researcher at the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf, where she leads the project “The Digital Video Essay,” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). She also serves as an associate editor at [in]transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Images Studies. Her written and videographic work has been published in journals like The Cine-Files, Music, Sound, and the Moving Image, NECSUS, Research in Film & History, and [in]transition.