Only the Young & Tchoupitoulas Review
Here's to the double feature and here's to youth. Pairing non-fiction films owing mightily to their settings and having in common young people at the center, Oscilloscope Laboratories has produced a two-disc set containing both Only the Young and Tchoupitoulas. The former concerns three teenagers in Southern California who often pass the time skateboarding and generally hanging out while the latter takes a trio of brothers into New Orleans at night amid the cavalcade of sights and sounds. Neither film particularly feels like a documentary in the traditional sense, and their shared enthusiasm for discovery makes for a logical pairing.
First-time feature directors Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims have created a decidedly watchable and easygoing, if slight, debut with Only the Young. Focusing mainly on high school friends and skater buddies Garrison and Kevin and the former's sorta girlfriend Skye, the film tries to capture a key interval in the ever-changing lives of teenagers. In a sense, it feels a little like an MTV-type of thing except with maybe more honesty and an admirable lack of manufactured drama. The biggest knock on the movie is that it can often seem rambling and all over the place, with little organizational rhyme or reason. It struggles to establish a cohesive narrative. We're first introduced to Garrison and Kevin as they're spending time in an abandoned house, wanting to make it their own. Briefly, the picture looks like it's going to use this space as an important, possibly representational stand-in for a home. But this is fleeting, and we soon enough move on to a skateboard competition in Arizona, among other things.
The basic and normal qualities, with some punkish interests thrown in for good measure, of the three teens is the film's most winning aspect. They come across as unexceptional and faced with many of the same familiar situations as millions of others - chief among these, friendship and young love. Better exploration of these events might have benefited the movie since we seem to meet new love interests briefly only to have them disappear as though they were only introduced to create conflict between Garrison and Skye. There's also a recurring religious undercurrent which can come off as awkward and surprising. At one point, Garrison and his post-Skye girlfriend break up because the church encouraged them to, but this odd development seems inadequately explored. Another cringe-inducing moment has the local skate shop owner and mentor to the boys taking a busload of volunteers to the park to give out free tacos and encourage others to "skate for Christ" instead of just for themselves.
What Only the Young may lack in verve and momentum, Tchoupitoulas has in spades. Much of the film, the second from the Ross brothers Bill and Turner, can feel contrived but it does at least feed off of some of the energy emitting from its New Orleans setting. The wide-eyed awe ostensibly coming from the siblings on their journey into the city easily translates to the viewer. The entire music-filled, carnival-like atmosphere is captured as a joyous alternative to the tense and cramped home life seen for the boys at the beginning of the picture.
While the kids don't quite come across as compelling or well-rounded characters, the things they encounter, using the camera as eyes for both them and the audience, are worthy substitutions. We see dancers and street performers and a guy slicing open oysters and another making a pizza. There's a terrific little interlude in a bar involving an impromptu musical session consisting mostly of a guy rhythmically banging on the table. A separate incident has a nearly naked dancer putting on quite the show. But sometimes the three brothers are nowhere to be seen, and the footage instead seems to just be something the filmmakers shot and inserted into the movie. As a means of showing the potential overall feel of a New Orleans night then that's forgivable and only adds to the charm. It just doesn't really further the supposed attention being paid to the boys' experience.
Some of that plays into the most troubling part of Tchoupitoulas being a documentary. Its overall lack of authenticity, or at least the perception of such, can be distracting at times. When the boys make a big deal of having to be back on the ferry before midnight since that's the last trip for the day, it's not terribly difficult to foresee the future problems which do indeed arise. Similarly, an exploratory walk through a seemingly abandoned building at night and in the dark feels unnatural. For one thing, there's always a camera person near the boys (and that fact is difficult to forget) and the entire attempt at spookiness feels about as real as one of those paranormal ghost hunter shows. A visit to a cemetery might have been more appropriate.
The very DIY-seeming quality of Tchoupitoulas, which takes its name from a (not seen) street in New Orleans, ultimately makes its nagging flaws more forgivable. The movie, maybe owing some to its setting, often feels like a celebration that just happens to be following three brothers along the way. Unlike Only the Young, which at least does spend enough time with its subjects to allow us to get a feel for who they are, Tchoupitoulas forgoes any hint as to the relationship among its subjects and instead makes them feel secondary to the pulse of the city. It drips with show and spectacle, possibly at the expense of the kids. More often than not, though, I found myself not minding and actually preferring this focus to the awkward angst of Only the Young.
This two-disc set from Oscilloscope Laboratories gives Only the Young and Tchoupitoulas each its own DVD. The packaging is typical for O-Scope in that it's an all-cardboard digipak. The NTSC discs are both single-layered and identified as being R0.
Both pictures utilize the 1.78:1 aspect ratios and are enhanced for widescreen televisions. The similarities pretty much end there. Only the Young, shot with steady care and utilizing natural, outdoor light, looks fine in standard definition. It shows bright colors and generally appears to match expectations, with modest detail. However, Tchoupitoulas opts for handheld, nighttime, grainy-looking images that also probably better fit its milieu. This is New Orleans after dark and not sun-soaked Southern California. But there's no problem with the actual transfer, even if it's difficult to honestly say the image looks particularly good.
It's a similar story with the audio. Both films offer English 5.1 surround and stereo tracks. Only the Young offers an easily audible mix where music bursts forth and the speaking parts also come through cleanly. Much of Tchoupitoulas, on the other hand, can be very difficult to hear, especially when the boys are walking and talking. English subtitles for the hearing impaired, available for both pictures, do come in handy. Clearly, this is owing to how these films were shot, but Tchoupitoulas nonetheless does have some audio issues.
In terms of bonus features, Only the Young has an audio commentary featuring both directors and film journalist Eric Hynes which goes into the backstory of the film a bit. There are also Outtakes (15:56) consisting of often random, unused bits and lots of extra skateboarding and the short film "Thompson" (9:59), which is kind of a dry run for the feature only with two other, unrelated teenage friends. The original theatrical trailer (1:58) is the proverbial cherry. Tchoupitalas has only a "Behind the Scenes with the Ross Brothers" (15:24) featurette in which the directors are seen filming as well as talking a little about the film for the radio and the trailer (1:01). Both also include previews for other Oscilloscope titles.