High School

High School (1968)

There were some hip teachers, some crotchety teachers, some bully teachers, some concerned parents, some incredulous parents, and a whole bunch of acne ridden kids. But Dylan was right, Frederick Wiseman's High School is a great compliment and contrast to American Teen (2008).

Wiseman's camera remains a coolly distant observer at all times; the subjects never address it directly, and also unlike American Teen (but befitting the title), adults (teacher and parents) are very much a presence in the film. I'm not sure if it is coincidental, but this change in film making technique and a more measured approach to the subjects by Wiseman actually paints a far more positive and sympathetic picture of the teens.

I didn't expect to see a positive discussion of contraception for the girls.The boys' sex talk was more like a comedy roast at the Friars' Club. Less positive though, was the amount of highly normative moral instruction given by the teachers (conform, submit to authority, promiscuity is bad), but I was equally and more pleasantly surprised by the excellent and engaged teaching that was going on in Northeast High School. The teachers were at times very frank (brutally so), but the grumpy old man in me says it's just because kids need discipline and clearly set boundaries. But then again, in the kids shoes, no amount of Simon & Garfunkel and moon landings can make up for being in high school.

Conversation starters

  • Was that a fashion and comportment class? Wow, I wish I'd had that opportunity at Shirley Boys' High!
  • I was slightly disturbed by the amount of time the camera lingered on the behind of the young woman doing calisthenics. You?
  • Cool fake Apollo mission! 193 hours isolated in a cardboard capsule and the biggest sensation was the amount of beard growth!


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