PJFF: Frederick Wise's High School on 35mm
We’ll be highlighting films throughout the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival beginning November 3rd through November 18th. For more information visit pjff.org
I recently watched Frederick Wise’s documentary High School for the first time, and was struck by how much has and hasn’t changed, since my own high school days in the early 2000s. Wise’s film depicts Philadelphia’s Northeast High School in 1968, weaving together a tapestry of short segments to illustrate the everyday goings-on in a “typical” American high school. True to his signature style, Wise’s film does not feature any commentary, or overarching plot structure. What audiences are treated to is the boredom, arguments, parent-teacher conferences, class community, and the overall mundanity of those endless corridors. From classroom lectures, to band practice, to gym class, and beyond. For someone not even alive in 1968, I found the whole experience watching this movie rather nostalgic.
Of particular note are the sequences that depict students arguing with an administrator about assigned detentions and expulsions. There’s something entertaining about a snot-nosed kid trying to plead their case to a man who’s clearly heard it all. Some things never change. But many things do. The most telling segments of the film have to be the segregated sex ed classes, featuring straightforward talk about the pill for the girls, and a male gynecologist discussing hymens and his fingering of female patients during exams to a room of applauding and whooping boys. It’s cringeworthy to say the least.
What I appreciate most about Wise’s style is his ability to let the footage do all the talking. There may not be any narration or narrative structure to tell this story, but one is surely told, and more poignantly than many other documentaries made today.
As part of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival’s pre-festival events, Frederick Wise’s High School will be screened in glorious 35mm at the Lightbox Film Center this Sunday, October 14th at 7:00pm. This film is definitely worth a viewing for it’s all too real depiction of that most difficult of times, from a filmmaker who dedicated his craft to the exploration of “American Institutions.”
For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.