The Best Years of Our Lives!?

Yesterday I was speaking with MissLaxmi, and she told me that initially she had been surprised that someone would want to spend so much time and energy revisiting high school. Which, I must admit, is an entirely valid response. We both agreed that our high school years had been, to quote the bard, "unsatisfying".

Really, that's putting it quite mildly. High school was horrible. A painfully uncomfortable, sometimes humiliating, and often soul-crushing experience. Second only to middle school in the grand scheme of demeaning life experiences.

I used to scoff (guffaw?) when I heard my classmates say: these are the best years of our lives. I couldn't, and can't, think of too many statements that are quite as tragically pathetic. Even if you do enjoy your high school years - which is a situation that must apply to a negligible percentage of high school students past or present, and still they're probably just kidding themselves - the idea that they are/were the best years of your life is just a way of setting yourself up for disappointment. You might as well be saying: this is as good as it gets, and everything else will just be a letdown. And you think I'm being negative!

Anyway, I'm not yet prepared to address my reasons for diving into the deep end and wallowing in an all too familiar world of gut churning and cringe inducing experiences. Whatever my reasons - exorcism? - the truly odd thing is that I have somehow found myself with this month to fully immerse myself in the task at hand, and I've set up camp in my old room, in my parent's house, a short walk from where I actually suffered through my high school years. It adds an interesting element to the experiment that I am also not fully prepared to dissect just yet.

In other news: there was a little high school drama here in "the junction" yesterday. Apparently, a 16 year old student at my alma-mater was planning to skip town with her boyfriend. Somehow her parents got wind of it and showed up at the high school parking lot yesterday morning to confront her and her sweetie. There was some sort of physical altercation and the boyfriend took off on foot. The local police were "pursuing" him all morning. From what my parents tell me - they were driving home from the airport at the time - all of the police cars in the junction must have been dispatched, and there was even a helicopter flying low over the 'burbs! The automated emergency warning system was leaving voicemails letting us know that the search was on, and that we were "strongly advised to stay in our homes". No joke. Aside from the hysterical response, I think I see a teen movie in there, like, fer sure. Maybe I'll drop the thesis and start working on a screenplay instead. Something like Crazy/Beautiful meets Light It Up?


Geek Out - The John Hughes Font?

I'm working on "Chapter 1" now, which focuses on The Breakfast Club and therefore will have to say something about the larger Hughes oeuvre. This morning I started watching Pretty In Pink - one Hughes movie that I would prefer to forget - and I noticed that the opening credits use the same font that appears in the opening credits of TBC. I had a hard time finding an example of what I'm referring to online, but if you click here you can briefly see the typeface in question.

Are there any hipsters out there, well versed in the alchemical vagaries of graphic design, that could help me find out what this font is called, or if it has had any other applications?


Extreme Makeover: Identity Edition

Last night I watched The Breakfast Club with my good friends C&C. Afterwards we talked quite a bit about our own high school experiences and how we could and couldn't relate to John Hughes' magnum opus. One topic came up that always seems to inspire strong reactions: Allison's make-over and subsequent pairing-off with Andy.

I'm curious how people feel about this part of the plot. It seems that it is almost universally agreed that Hughes' made an enormous mistake here, but I'm not completely convinced.

One of the things that has always appealed to me about TBC is that underneath the melodrama it is a pretty accurate depiction of the social landscape of American high schools. At the end of the movie the prom queen and the criminal are going steady, the jock and the freak are walking hand-in-hand, and the nerd - his confidence bolstered by writing a badass little social manifesto of an essay - feels comfortable enough to admit that Carl-the-janitor actually is his friend. And even though Bender's triumphantly upraised fist is captured for eternity in an uplifting freeze-frame, does anyone really believe that when these kids get back to school on Monday morning that anything will have really changed?

That is to say, is Allison's transformation really all that shocking? Disappointing, sure. But shocking? She is alienated and insecure. Her appearance is basically an extension of her desire to protect herself from a hostile world by remaining more or less invisible, but at the same time she is desperate to find someone that will listen to her and take her seriously. It seems to me entirely plausible that she would be willing to try on a little conformity in an attempt to make a connection with her peers.

In a simultaneously related and unrelated note, the Andy/Allison thing also reminded me of Juno: jocks all secretly lust after the freak girls. Oh, and btw, Clea DuVall's character in The Faculty is another case in point.


Another Movie I Can't Write About!

theW just told me about a new movie called American Teen. No release date yet, of course.

Frederick Wiseman's "High School"

Aside from the Introduction and Epilogue (I decided to collapse the two epilogues in the chapter list into one) I am planning two mini-chapters, no more than five pages, to help provide context. They're really just excuses for me to talk about two movies that I think are awesome that I would otherwise probably not include.

Anyway, here is what I wrote today about Frederick Wiseman's 1968 documentary High School. I'm really not happy with what I wrote. It didn't come easy, and it reads like it. It's a shame because Wiseman's film is totally brilliant. He has this really wicked sense for editing. From what I have seen of his style, the material is pretty stark. One hand held camera, no lighting, only diegetic sound. But the editing is merciless. He can say so much with just how he opposes scenes and shots. Incredible.

So here's the junk. Any thoughts?

“High School shows no stretching of minds. It does show the overwhelming dreariness of administrators and teachers who confuse teaching with discipline. The school somehow takes warm, breathing teen-agers and tries to turn them into 40-year old mental eunuchs… No wonder the kids turn off, stare out windows, become surly, try to escape… The most frightening thing about High School is that it captures the battlefield so clearly; the film is too true.”
–Peter Janssen, Newsweek
The images are simple, in grainy black and white, with the distinctive quiver of a hand held camera. The documentary style is equally as stark: there are no interviews, no voice-overs, and no narrative structure to be easily grasped. With the exception of an Otis Redding song played during the opening credits, all of the sound comes from the source material; there is no carefully orchestrated soundtrack and no collection of contemporary popular songs to lend allure or to enhance the mood. Frederick Wiseman’s 1968 documentary High School is not likely to appeal to the average high school student, and though it may not immediately resemble the other high school movies discussed in this text, it is in many ways, a genuine prototype for classic teen films like The Breakfast Club, Dead Poets Society, and Pump Up the Volume.

High School was shot in 1968, in an upper-middle class, mostly white area of suburban Philadelphia. In terms of facilities and resources Northeast High School appears to be well equipped, at least not any more or less so than the average American public school at that time. During an interview with Cynthia Lucia for the October 1994 issue of Cineaste, Frederick Wiseman remarked on the effect his film has had on audiences. “One of the amazing aspects of making High School has been the fact that, over the years, I have met people who have graduated from high school anywhere from the 1920s on into the 1990s, and they tell me it's just like their high school” (Lucia). The film is honest and unmerciful, and it accurately depicts the typical high school experience.

Many of the teachers are smug, condescending and self-important. Some of them are bullies. The Dean of Discipline is a hefty man with a forceful voice, and he doesn’t hesitate to use either asset to maintain his control of a situation. In conversation with one student he makes it clear that he equates “being a man” with following orders. Another disciplinarian, whom the camera follows from a cautious distance as he makes his rounds, practically barks at the students he meets in the hallway: Whaddya doin’ here? Where ya goin’? You got a pass? They respond to him with fear and concealed amusement.

Other teachers are insensitive, and superficial. Publicly criticizing their student’s weight and physical appearance. Still others are simply racist and/or sexist. One remarks on the “matriarchal” structure of the middle-class Jewish family, which he compares to the natural familial structure of “lower animals”. In easily the most awkward of the film’s several cringe-inducing scenes one adult addresses an auditorium full of unruly teenage boys, responding to anonymously written questions about “the facts of life”. At one particularly low point he reads, “Is it possible to get a girl pregnant by rubbing the surface of the vagina?” and then responds with an off-putting cocksure air, “With what, your nose?” The auditorium quite literally erupts with laughter and applause.

As this scene proves, the students are equally deserving of the viewer’s disapproval. They frequently whimper under the weight of their superiors, often resorting to subtle manipulation to avoid censure or punishment. Some of them attempt, however unsuccessfully, to assert their independence, even though many of their gains are purely symbolic. One boy persistently states and restates his innocence to the Dean of Discipline though he finally assents, agreeing to serve his scheduled detention, he adds that he will do so “under protest”. Though their struggle is rarely flattering and never graceful, there is no confusion as to who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed, and the viewer’s sympathy always goes out to the students.

Yet, there is one scene showing students and teacher occupying the same uncomfortable ground. A young teacher, her short black hair, dangling silver earrings and short striped jumper just inches above her knees – and just a few short minutes after an extended debate over appropriate skirt length: below the knees – is almost completely indistinguishable from her students. She appears to have little more than her four years of college ahead of them, and she is visibly eager to gain their approval. That day’s lesson plans include the poetic merits of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Dangling Conversation”. While she peers over her class as they listen to the song, she seems just as interested that they develop an appreciation for her, as she is that they develop an appreciation for poetry. It is both endearing and pathetic at the same time.

Wiseman’s camera often revels in and ruminates on the details. He frequently focuses on posture or mannerisms, pushing in on a tight shot to reveal a mother’s hands nervously fidgeting with a chair. At other times he draws out aspects of physical appearance, highlighting a guidance counselor’s implausibly thick bifocals. All of these elements are combined to create a portrait of high school life that is as frustrating and discomfiting as the real experience. In his May 1969 review of Wiseman’s High School, Peter Janssen observed that, “high schools are prisons where the old beat down the young, where raw material is run through the machine and stamped BLAND” (Janssen). The undeniable energy that exists on screen in Wiseman’s film is created by the constant tension between the students and their parents, teachers and administrators who almost never miss an opportunity to assert their authority, however speciously held that authority might be.

Because It's Still Awesome, And Because Embedding Video Makes Me Feel Cool.


Jacques Lacan & Chaka Khan

The internet really shouldn't be so easily accessible. I would probably get a lot more done if I didn't just chase down every nonsense idea that floats to the top of my brain.

Click here and scroll down to read "Article V, Section 4" to see exactly what I am presently referring to. Proof that similar minds think alike, or something like that.