Seventeen (1983, Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines)

The fact that Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines’ Seventeen—a scrappy, sprawling observational documentary about a group of teenagers in Muncie, Indiana—contains very few moments of quiet means that when one does arrive, it seems all the more resonant. From the start of the film, the onscreen characters—whether in cars, in class, at home, or at parties—talk almost constantly, often screaming over each other or to get a word in, crack a joke, or hurl an insult. At the final stages of a big party, countless beers down, bleary eyed and slurring heavily, and having just wrestled shirtless in the kitchen, one of the teenagers decides now is the time to call in a request to the radio. A tribute song for a fallen brother lost in a car accident just hours before, it’s a strangely touching gesture amidst a film featuring frequent buffoonery and bigotry.Dialling up the local station, he asks for Bob Seger’s ‘Against The Wind’, only to have it accepted just a few minutes later. “It’s the song, it’s the song! Crank it!” his mother screams, before the opening notes sound out and everyone in the room falls silent, spread out on seats, nodding in unison, in mutual embrace of oblivion.

When the chorus kicks in, Seger sounding out through the rooms of the half-trashed home, the effect is intensely moving. This is in part because of the severity of the tonal switch and the absolute absence of anything this serious, or indeed silent, up to this point, but also because you can tell—despite all the idiocy and bravado—that this is pain that is genuinely felt, and relief even more so. “We were young and strong // We were runnin’ // Against the wind.” Sometimes grief requires serenity and ceremony, but sometimes you just need to get blind drunk and listen to your friend’s favourite song at obscene volume, one last time as the sun comes up.

Originally posted on the Open City Documentary Festival blog

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