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High School (1968)

Not Rated | | Documentary | May 1968 (USA)
Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman takes us inside Northeast High School as a fly on the wall to observe the teachers and how they interact with the students.

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Storyline

Producer and director Frederick Wiseman takes his camera into a high school in 1968 and records events as they occur. Told without narration, the film essentially listens in on students, teachers and parents as they deal with issues of everyday life. Students are clearly meant to do as they are told without question - many of the teachers are autocratic in this respect - and the developing clash of cultures is evident in almost every scene. The role these young women are expected to play after high school is particularly archaic by today's standards. Written by garykmcd

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Documentary

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Not Rated
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May 1968 (USA)  »

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Student Affairs  »

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Did You Know?

Trivia

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider. See more »

Quotes

Male Authority Figure: It's nice to be individualistic, but there are certain places to be individualistic.
Female Student: I didn't mean to be individualistic.
Male Authority Figure: No, I'm not criticizing!
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Connections

Referenced in Rushmore (1998) See more »

Soundtracks

(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay
(uncredited)
Written by Steve Cropper and Otis Redding
Performed by Otis Redding
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User Reviews

 
Hope inside the bubble
29 August 2001 | by (behind the velvet rope) – See all my reviews

Sometimes the best films are those truest to themselves. There's nothing phony about this movie. It's a time capsule. It captured a cloistered, closed system from within. The results are spellbinding.

The faculty of NorthEast high school in Philadelphia are the stars. The viewer decides whether their actions are good or bad. There's certain purity at work. Is it an imperfect system? You bet it is. Do rules appear petty and draconian? Yes, they do. But there is hope inside the bubble. The faculty at NorthEast could be teachers at my high school. We have the flat-topped disciplinarian, the hip, young English teacher, the no-nonsense fashion matron, and the boring instructor with the bad teeth.

The scene with the coach and the graduate who visited while on leave from Vietnam illustrated one of the prominent themes; this environment is in a bubble insulated from community and society. In this scene, the coach made a connection between a soldier's war wound and the effect on his sports career. He was so wrapped up in his role as the school coach; he immediately applied news from the outside world to his microcosmic world inside the school grounds.

This theme was also reiterated by a boy in one of the rare scenes where students were the stars. The would-be bohemian said as much; this school is a cloistered, closed system. The bubble theme is further underscored by the sequence where three boys emerged from a space capsule simulator after 193 hours. There was much fanfare for the successful end to 'Project SPARC' including a telegram from astronaut Gordon Cooper, read with typical dragnet-style inflection by the sponsoring teacher.

In fact, several scenes feature extended recitations of written material by instructors who suffer from chronic educational ennui. There is the flat rendition of 'Casey at the Bat', the review of the typing test text, and the dreaded retelling of the "thought for the day" from the daily bulletin. A glimpse of self-awareness offered by a young English teacher was most startling. In the course of dissecting Paul Simon's poem "The Dangling Conversation", she read it aloud first, and followed with the Simon & Garfunkel song version. She told the students to listen to both versions. The poem came alive with the music. A lingering shot of the teacher showed the hope in her eyes that someone will get the message. For me, it's the best sequence in the film. If Wiseman wanted to underscore a failure of the system, it lied not with the disciplinarian tactics or heavy-handed advice dispensed by the staff, but with the inadequacy of the delivery methods used by educators.

The message turns hopeful in the last scene. A teacher reads a letter at a faculty meeting written by the former student on station in Vietnam. Tight camera work reveals the emotion of the reader, in contrast to the non expressive faces of the previous speakers. The written word provides power after all. There's hope on the part of the student to survive outside the system, hope on the part of the administrator reading the note that they do have an impact on their charges, and hope that inside a flawed machine such as the educational system, someone gets the message.


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