High School is a documentary by Frederick Wiseman that follows what seems to be a typical, or atypical, day in the lives of high schoolers of the time and their faculty in rural Pennsylvania. It is an unseeming documentary, one of the first of the cinema verite documentaries that remains entirely in the background of the subject it is observing. At least, at first. By remaining in the background, the film catches a lot more than it otherwise would’ve had it been more intrusive with its material.
The film starts out like any old regular documentary on high school, almost boring in its mundanity. The camera is a passive listener, capturing its footage without even being noticed by the passerby. It is only when several of these snippets of footage have been played to us that we begin to see a common thread developing; all of the adult figures, whether in their interactions with the students or with each other, are so bullheaded as to evoke scoffs and cries of incredulity from the audience. The atmosphere in the school is so stiflingly oppressive and single-minded that it bears noting to make sure that high schools today are not like this.
This film was banned in the rural Pennsylvania areas it was filmed in, as it was viewed as depicting the school in an oppressive light. It would be interesting to see what reactions would be to this film if it were shown in high schools today. I’m not saying this is required viewing by every high schooler in America, but it would be interesting to compare and contrast the two different eras. It seems like it would be interesting, and maybe in a roundabout way nostalgic, for a general audience as well, looking to reminisce about their high school lives and see if there are any similarities with the film. Just be aware of what you’re stepping into.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10