High School (1968)
Directed by Frederick Wiseman
In 1968, vérité legend Frederick Wiseman went to Philadelphia’s Northeast High School to shoot his follow-up to his enthralling, controversial debut, Titicut Follies, a direct cinema classic about a correctional facility in Massachusetts for the mentally insane. High School is another American documentary landmark, a captivating forthright portrayal of an ordinary American high school and the continuous familiar squabbles between teachers and students.
Strict but not necessarily an ultraconservative high school for 1968, Northeast employs teachers who talk about birth control and challenge traditional ideas of patriarchal households while others quarrel with students about a young woman’s “proper” prom dress etiquette. Particularly amusing are scenes in which a Spanish class learns how to pronounce the words “existential philosopher” in Spanish, a hip young teacher introduces her apathetic class to the poetry in Simon & Garfunkel’s music and a wisecracking gynecologist answers anonymous questions about sex in front of an auditorium of pubescent boys.
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. Alejandro Veciana (April 15, 2:20pm, 6pm, 9:50pm; April 21, 1:30pm, 6pm, 10:15pm; April 22, 2:50pm, 6:40pm, 10:10pm; April 27, 2:20pm, 10pm in a new 35mm preservation at Film Forum’s “The Complete Wiseman: Part I”)