Movie Review: High School (1968) #atozchallenge

This is my entry for “H” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “H” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Harvard Beats Yale 29 to 29HeimaHelvetica, Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil, HillsboroughThe Historic Pubs of Dublin, and The Hollywood Librarian.

Title: High School
Release Date: May 1, 1968
Director: Frederick Wiseman
Production Company: Zipporah Films

Provocative filmmaker Frederick Wiseman brought his cameras to Northeast High School in Philadelphia for five weeks in March and April 1968. The result is an unnarrated, cinéma vérité glimpse into the lives of students, teachers, staff, and parents.

1968 is the height of the civil strife and the emergence of the youth culture of the 1960s, so that is definitely undergirding a lot of what we see on screen, although I think it can be overstated. One scene shows a conversation about former students wounded in Vietnam. The assasination of Martin Luther King, Jr. is mentioned in passing.  A teacher surveys a class of white students about their willingness to be part of an organization with black people (the higher the percentage of black members, the fewer hands go up).

But the majority of the film depicts what feels like the timeless aspects of high school.  The movie was filmed 5 years before I was born and 20 years before I attended high school, but a lot of it felt familiar.  There are no long-haired hippies at this school. Rebellion comes in the form of high hemlines, talking back to teachers, and attempting to avoid gym class.

Wiseman’s camera captures many instances of teachers attempting to assert their authority over the students.  Often this ends up devolving into absurdity.  A teacher howls louder and louder for students to display their hall passes while the students show increasing indifference to him.  A dean exclaims the absolute necessity for girls to wear a floor length gown to a formal even though she eventually admits that they are uncomfortable and difficult to walk in. There’s a least one “cool” teacher in the school, though, as she uses a recent song by Simon & Garfunkel to help illustrate the principles of poetry.

If you thought that parents arguing with teachers about their child’s grades was a recent thing, you will be convinced otherwise when the rubber-faced father of a girl named Rhona is animatedly insistent that his daughter should not be flunked. The same father later insults Rhona’s intelligence, though, and Rhona appears to agree with him.

The casual sexism at the school is perhaps the most alarming aspect of watching this movie 51 years later.  Again and again, the girls are instructed that they need to focus on their looks and demeanor. A teacher in what appears to be a fashion design class repeatedly refers to her students as having “heavy legs.” For a public school in a large Northeastern city, Northeast High School was also overwhelmingly white.  Only late in the film do we see a black student, who talks for an extended time in the classroom, while the other students listen.

I don’t think Northeast is an exam school like Boston Latin or the Stuyvesant High School in New York, but I do get the impression that it is more of an academically elite school than your typical high school.  One scene shows that the school had a space research program complete with a mock space capsule from which three students emerge after a 5-day simulated space flight.  Wiseman’s choice of an atypical school is not the only element of bias.  It’s clear that the 75 minutes selected from five weeks of filming focuses on conflict that pushes the message of high school as a place of arbitrary authoritarianism.  There is not a single scene in the entire film that just shows teenagers interacting with one another, an important aspect of any high school day. Stylistically, I like how Wiseman will focus the camera on a person’s hands as they speak or listen.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

There’s a throughline in the high school experience that I think many viewers can relate to.  On the other hand, this film is a document of a place and time. Some things we’ll be happy are in the past, such as the girls’ gym rompers that look like they were made out of canvas bags.  Other things I’m sad are gone, such as the distinctive accents that seem to be less and less prominent in America these days.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Watch the movie Eighth Grade, which while fictional, is a very honest depiction of school life in the 2010s.

Source: Kanopy


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

A Song and a Story: “Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe” #AtoZChallenge

Today’s song and a story is a whale of a tale!  Literally, because this song is by a Swedish band called Whale, and it’s called:

Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe

Folks, take a gander at this bizarre music video.  If you weren’t alive in the 90s and want to know what the 90s were like, this video will show you.  Oh though, be warned, if you’re that young this song is probably not appropriate for you.

In the 1990s, I attended the College of William & Mary, and every semester I was at college (including the summer) I was a DJ at our college radio station, WCWM.  I dutifully spun the wax at my weekly show whether it was at 5am, midnight, lunch time, or even when no one was listening (this was not self-deprecation as I once did an entire show not realizing the transmiter was down).

I’ve documented earlier in a Song and a Story that I devoted a portion of my high school years to listening to classic rock exclusively and came late to what was then called “alternative” music.  My fellow DJs at WCWM did not make this mistake and were deeply knowledgable about bands and genres I’d never heard of.  The music I liked, they informed me, was too commercial or by artists who had “sold out.”  They were cool and I was not.

Typically, I tried to have a partner for a show as it was more fun to have company and someone to banter with on the air, as well as being able to split up selecting the music selection for better variety.  My junior year I had a show but no partner.  I became acquainted with a Freshman who hung out at the station named Heather, who absolutely oozed cool, but was that rare but lovely combination of cool and kind.  I still don’t know why someone this cool would want to associate with me, but we became friends.  And since seniority meant that I had a show and she didn’t, I invited her to be a partner on my show.

Which leads us to “Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe,” one of the very first songs she chose to play once she got behind the mixing board.  I was like “what is this?” And Heather just cranked it up, bopped her head, and said “This is awesome!”  Honestly, the joy this weird-ass song brought Heather made me like it despite myself.  So whenever I hear “Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe” I think of Heather and the day my radio show was slightly more cool.

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – A Song and a Story

A: Always on My Mind
B: Baby Come Back and Baker Street
C: Cheek to Cheek
D: Don’t Worry, Be Happy and Doctor Jones
E: Everyday Sunshine
F: Fly Me to the Moon
G: Ghost Town

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.