Only the Young and Tchoupitoulas: DVD

Jun 13, 2014

This double-disc set contains two documentaries from Oscilloscope Laboratories. The films are set on opposite sides of the country, but their themes of adolescent innocence and exploration draw them together.

Only the Young is, first and foremost, beautifully shot. Lens flares twinkle between lingering shots of drainage ditches and abandoned houses, and everything seems washed out in a soft desert haze. The filmmakers’ portrayal of suburban Southern California is heavily nostalgic, but not necessarily inaccurate. Speaking of nostalgia, the lanky skate punks at the center of the documentary bear signifiers familiar to anyone who grew up “alternative” in an era of mass-produced punk artifacts: crisp embroidered patches, streaks of hair dye, that one “Out of Step” T-shirt every record store carries. Garrison, Kevin, and Skye are as recognizable as any kid I knew in tenth grade. Many of the moments they share are so perfectly candid and graceful that it isn’t immediately clear whether or not they are scripted. Nonetheless, this isn’t a structured narrative about the pain of growing up or the triumphs of disaffected youth over suburban conformity. Only the Young is more of an intimate teenage diary, offering glimpses of tentative relationships, half-completed projects, and the first unnerving pangs of adulthood. Unfortunately, the film’s power is hampered by some awkward hiccups in pacing and emphasis, but the overall effect is sweet, honest, and tastefully subdued.

Like its companion film, Tchoupitoulas is less formal documentary than immersive portrait. It follows three young brothers on a night’s journey into New Orleans.

William, the youngest, emerges as our curious protagonist. He races behind his brothers, indifferent to their exasperation with his mile-a-minute questions. The camera follows over his shoulder and documents the sights and sounds of the city: gaudy costumes, street evangelists, fire spinners, sidewalk vendors, tourists in matching T-shirts, and, of course, live music—on every other corner, spilling out of bars and clubs, drifting out of open windows. The experience of watching Tchoupitoulas is as close to tramping through the French Quarter as it gets without actually doing it. The bustling city scenes are divided by intervals of dreamlike quiet in which William muses on topics including his dream careers (football player, lawyer, architect, in succession), what he would do if he could be twenty-one forever (stay on the phone all night and ride around in Lamborghinis), and the beautifulest girl he’s ever seen (his friend’s girlfriend). Barely even on the brink of adolescence, William is as earnest and charming a guide an audience could hope for.

At a little over an hour apiece, these two documentaries make a resonant and well-matched pair. Though set in vastly different landscapes, both curate the experiences of their subjects without commenting on them or forcing a narrative. They aim instead for the sincerity of real moments. It’s a lofty goal, and one that each film happily achieves. –Indiana Laub (Oscilloscope Laboratories, PO Box 20090, 527 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014,