The Collectors: Matt Wolf

Matt Wolf’s newest documentary Teenage is on tour now, showing in theatres across the United States.

On the occasion of Matt Wolf’s newest documentary Teenage we are republishing this brief musing by Wolf on his favorite photograph, originally printed in The Collectors column from Aperture magazine, #212 (Fall 2013).

Sommertag auf einer Berliner Dachwiese—das Radio sorgt für Unterhaltung (Summer day on a rooftop lawn, with a radio for entertainment), Berlin, 1926. Photographer unknown © 2005 bpk—Bildagentur für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin

I’ve always been obsessed with images of women listening to records. My favorites are scenes from Fassbinder films. At the conclusion of his first feature, Love Is Colder Than Death (Liebe ist kälter als der Tod, 1969), a female gangster lies on the floor in a stark white bedroom in front of a turntable. The motif repeats in his 1975 television movie Fear of Fear (Angst vor der Angst). A housewife named Margot suffers from inconsolable postpartum depression. In the film’s climax, she locks her oldest daughter out of the apartment, lies on the floor, and blares a pop record.

I recently finished making a film called Teenage about the birth of youth culture. In that process, I saw thousands of archival images, including this remarkable photograph of 1920s German teenagers listening to the radio on a green roof. The photographer is unknown, but I found the image in an incredible book called Wir wollen eine andere Welt (We want another world) by Fred Grimm. When Fred learned about my film last year, he sent me his book, and it hugely inspired me.

In the early twentieth century, young people endured incredible oppression from their parents, governments, and the police. Pop culture and friends were their refuge, and teenagers struggled to create their own private world. This image is like a dream, and it conveys the transporting, hypnotic power of music.

Matt Wolf is the director of Wild Combination (2008), about the avant-garde cellist and disco producer Arthur Russell, and Teenage, which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. He is a 2010 Guggenheim Fellow.