2008 was a good year in terms of documentaries for me. I pretty much enjoyed every doc I watched last year and given that a lot of them were set in these gorgeous locations and had incredible cinematography and covered inherently interesting subjects, I wasn’t sure how a much older documentary set in an American High School would feel when I put it on last night. I think what struck me the most about High School is how well it captures this particular point in time – the late 60s and simultaneously feels utterly timeless and current. This doc has no talking heads, no voiceovers, no interviews and not even a real narrative thread as such. Apart from this one Otis Redding song that plays right at the very beginning, there is no background score or music that might influence the mood while watching the film. It’s just a camera following events at an American High School over a particular period. And yet he manages to say so much just through his editing choices. My own high school experiences came three decades after this documentary was shot and I still felt like this was my own high school experience I was watching being recreated. Just how Wiseman manages to make these interactions between these students and teachers which are not really that different from what we’ve all been through in high school feel so powerful and significant just through his choice of what to focus on in any given scene is incredible to watch. From the tight shots of the expression on a girl’s face as she is being reprimanded for wearing a short dress to junior prom to a mother restlessly fidgeting with her chair to a scene in a classroom where we see students reacting to a fellow classmate’s harsh criticism of the school.
This is probably one of the best documentaries I’ve ever watched and I definitely felt like I could see the influence this movie has probably had on so many other high school movies that I like. I had no intention of watching American Teen but this has piqued my curiosity and I’ll probably watch it just to see how it compares.
Edited to add: Loved the way Wiseman chose to end the film. So perfect.