High School Screen 7 articles

High School

1968

High School Poster
  • One of Frederick Wiseman's early cinema verite documentaries (1968), but not one of his best. Wiseman shoots his subject (the students and teachers of an "average" Pennsylvania high school) in a choppy, impressionistic style: his camera stays zoomed in on faces (and often fragments of faces) in a way that effectively obscures the social context his film is trying to evoke. A rather simplistic message emerges: that the school's business isn't education but regimentation.

  • Titicut Follies surveyed the human body in panic; the body, in Frederick Wiseman's follow-up, is the edifice, for a further literalization of Robin Wood's term for Franju ("terrible buildings")... Charlie Brown pinned to a gym board and doting over Simon & Garfunkel ("The poet is Simon") signal that it is 1968, but Wiseman's view extends to the John Hughes oeuvre and the haunted halls of Van Sant's Elephant.

  • What's most interesting to me about Wiseman's formal choices is the use of juxtaposition to create a sort of narrative progression between scenes. Each scene adds a new dimension of understanding to what we've already seen, a fuller portrait of the methods and limits of power's place in the school's system. As the film progresses, these limits become more clear, and High School becomes a work of history that explores the methods of institutional power in a time and place.

  • HIGH SCHOOL has been found heavy-handed and didactic by some critics in comparison to [Wiseman's] later productions... But the hoi polloi subjectivity-thermometer of IMDB's user reviews suggests that, if anything, it has retained its multiplicity of interpretations: for the radical anti-authoritarian, it is a concise proof-of-concept of Ivan Illich's classic text Deschooling Society; and for the less critically minded, it is a series of captivating snapshots of an urban generation-gap long past.

  • The film represents a time capsule — a cinematographic record not only of those sorts of characters frozen immemorial in Lions Club halls' gilt-framed photographs but also of the attitudes and fears of an era. Only from the vantage of the future has High School assumed the form of secret look or infiltration. Nevertheless it remains the single Wiseman film whose milieu its audience is most likely to have experienced collectively.

  • Fascinating set of vignettes detailing the operations of a Philadelphia-area school from the inside out. High School includes snippets of English classes, gym classes, parent-teacher conferences, sex ed presentations, hallway interactions, etc., much of it in medium shots and long takes. Taken together, these segments build up impressions of Vietnam War-era institutional control and student resistance that aren't too far from removed from Zero for Conduct.

  • The film is beautifully photographed, abundant in close-ups; Wiseman’s ability to get up close to students and render smaller narratives all while going seemingly unnoticed is an incredible feat. The way Wiseman’s directorial presence disappears in High School is an extraordinary and captivating effect. And although it’s a well familiar style, it’s still just as effective nearly 50 years later.

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