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High School (1968)

Not Rated | | Documentary | May 1969 (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.


Frederick Wiseman
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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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Not Rated

Did You Know?


This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1991. See more »


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!
See more »


Referenced in Rushmore (1998) See more »


The Dangling Conversation
Written by Paul Simon
Performed by Simon & Garfunkel
See more »

User Reviews

Sadly, a perfect time capsule
8 April 2003 | by geprescottSee all my reviews

I attended Northeast High School shortly after the movie was filmed. It is a disturbingly accurate presentation. Mr. Wiseman's cinema verite approach has encapsulated that time and space in the way to which historical endeavors aspire, but rarely achieve. The black and white format, while most likely driven by technology and cost, perfectly underscores the bland, but far from sterile, environment. While no accounting, regardless of volume, objectivity or technical accuracy, can fully convey an experience, this film merits its standing as an excellent historical work.

I remember the staff and how they made me feel. From comments I have read here and elsewhere, the movie provides the right mix of raw material for the audience to experience what I did. Or, if they "just don't get it," like the staff at the school, they will see what the staff did when the movie was made. Only after viewers expressed what they saw did the cast become incensed with what they later recalled as deceptive, malicious, slanderous abuses of trust. One teacher remarked to my class that the cameras were equipped with secret mirrors, so they could surreptitiously capture other than what they appeared to be filming. The movie was banned from Philadelphia for a number of years. This was during the Cold War. I remember wondering if people in the Soviet Union were allowed to watch it, and if I would be arrested should I smuggle it into the city.

With pathetically few exceptions, the teachers and administrators were generally condescending, arbitrarily authoritative, and guided by their own biases. They cared little for the students as learners or human beings, were poorly qualified to communicate, let alone teach, and were surprisingly more ignorant of current events than most of the students.

There was one notable exception, and I wish Mr. Wiseman could have found a way to weave it into the film's cloth without betraying its honesty.

The dean of students, figuring prominently in the movie, known as "The Mean Dean" in my day, taught my 12th grade history class. I was fortunate not to have known him in the more familiar context. At least that's what my memory tells me. With his Frank Rizzo haircut, overwhelming physical presence, brutal manner of speech, and distinctive gait owing to severe WW2 injuries, he contrasted with all of the other social sciences teachers in every way.

At the start of the school year, he explained that his â?odeanâ? alter ego would never enter the classroom and he held to that. He was honest about his opinions, never declining a straight question. He admitted what he didn't know or understand, and welcomed input from the class. He proudly related how the GI Bill allowed him to make a good life after his horrible experience in the war, his Corvette indulgence that was not popular with staff, and an almost childlike fascination with the complexity of the world. His unambiguous goal was to encourage the students to be skeptical of news and politics, to collect information from many sources, and to analyze and draw their own conclusions. It was one of the only classes in which we were taught to think for ourselves. The only textbook was a mandatory subscription to the Sunday New York Times, which we were required to read. Class assignments consisted of our comments and analyses of articles and editorials. Grading was based entirely on quality of the analysis. He was excruciatingly critical of process, and completely oblivious to content. I donâ?Tt know how he felt about the late Justice, but for me William Brennan and my 12th grade history teacher are my two First Amendment icons. I agreed with almost none of his very clearly expressed opinions. Still, I remember this as the most liberal of any class in my public school education.

There was one other notable exception to the gray abyss of high school. The SPARC extracurricular program, and its associated magnet program curriculum for the tiny clique of "advanced placement" students, was one bright spot in the school district's otherwise unenviable history. But it was so academically and physically isolated from the school mainstream, I don't see how it could have been accurately integrated into this movie. The shame is that the excellent teachers and equipment afforded by the program were not available to the large majority of students.

The reading of the soldier's letter was a perfect closing, as it so perfectly distilled the utter ignorance of that generation of teachers and administrators. There has been some progress in the intervening 30+ years, but there has also been some backsliding. "High School" remains, sadly, a timely insight into the education system in this country.

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May 1969 (USA) See more »

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