Sunday, March 02, 2003
Ryerson Application Written Statement
Throughout the past two years of University I have had the opportunity to critique current films for my University television station. Being able to watch and review over one hundred and ten films last year was a spectacular experience and provided many great experiences. One of these was the massive amount of Canadian films I was able to experience not in film festivals or university cinema but on the big screen at major theatres in Calgary. From locally produced films Fubar and Turning Page, to the beautiful Atanarjuat, to Ararat and Spider, or the documentary Gambling, Gods and LSD it was a banner year for Canadian film (Just to note that I do indeed understand that some of the films I viewed were released in earlier years but screened this year as larger releases). I do very much have an opinion on the state of Canadian film and how I intend to venture into its depths in four years but I am writing this statement to relate to you my thoughts about a Canadian filmmaker who has had a significant influence on my interest of filmmaking.
I will admit to you that my initial interest in filmmaking arose from American cinema, as I am sure it has many young filmmakers, as there is simply not enough interest or availability in today’s major theatres or major video chains for most children to be properly exposed to Canadian film. As my experience in film grew I began to notice what would be classified as the great Canadian filmmakers, such as Egoyan or Cronenberg. Later I discovered local talent including Robert Cuffley and Gary Burns and actually had the opportunity to interview them for a piece I did on Calgary film. One director I met during these interviews and the one I believe inspires me the most is a woman by the name of Brenda Turning.
The first thought that normally would come to mind is who exactly is Brenda Turning? I will answer this question with an answer that I believe applies to many Canadian filmmakers today. Brenda is a filmmaker now about 6 years out of film school who is currently in the process of getting funding for her first feature length film. Her only significant work finished outside of school is a short film, which screened at this year’s CIFF, titled Drown Proofing. What I love so much about Brenda is her drive and determination in finishing her scriptwriting process for her film while continuing to apply for funding so that she may eventually make her film. I am particularly impressed with her determination to remain true to her own vision of the film and not sacrificing that vision for allowing outside influences to break down her project and leave it unfinished. I also see in her writings, which are available on www.calgarymovies.com, that she seems almost afraid to finish writing so that she will have to face the huge mountain that is actually producing the film.
I see Brenda’s experiences as a foil for my own including a small project I had worked on titled Spanish 201 and as a foil for other Canadian filmmakers who wish to realize their distinct Canadian vision but must fight through a filmmaking environment that is in a growth stage and will hopefully allow young filmmakers to realize their experiences in film. I believe that my significant contributions to Canadian film will stem from these same experiences and that I can work within the Canadian environment to produce and direct beautiful and distinct works of Canadian cinema.
My letter to My professor over leaving Spanish 201:
I just like to make a quick comment on this point. Basically having surrounded myself in film culture for the last few years many truths have arisen. One that shows its face many times is the quantity of people that consider themselves filmmakers or people who know and understand film. Now I will disclaim that I don’t pretend to be a filmmaker myself, simply a student of film where in I feel I need to understand film and the filmmaking process fully so that it does not impede on the art of film production itself. I entered the program with the intention of selecting a script which I felt was artistically and technically sound and would be a good script with which to direct my first short production. I felt that I had reached a level of proficiency where I could feasibly produce the film and make it technically and artistically sound. IT would be something that I could be proud of and be successful with.
The description given to me when I signed on for the film program was that it was simply a 5 week program where I’d select a script and shoot my piece with some guidance from NUTV. The first limitation placed upon the program was the fact that the scripts were in fact themed, specifically the scripts were about budget cuts. Now I have a difficulty with the fact that these writers were restricted to a certain theme off the bat because most script writers I hope would cultivate their own ideas and experiences rather then pigeon holing them into a specific picture (possibly a wrestling picture). We sat down at the meeting and had 9 scripts presented to us. Of course with 9 people in program that left one script per director. I selected Spanish 201 because it garnered the best reaction of the people that were there and with only minutes to decide it seemed to fit into my type of thinking the most. Upon taking it to another director and a successful scriptwriter the 4 page script showed itself as a mess of wordings and situations that was honestly quite a horrible, generic, stereotypical story.
But that shouldn’t have been a problem because I was surrounded by some great filmmakers. I set out first to infuse my own ideas into the script. While I kept the dialogue the same I infused most of the subtext which was nowhere to be found as the writer came from what I believe a stage background and didn’t have the basic film scriptwriting skills other than basic form. I then sent it off to Matt in Australia who basically turned the now 5 page script into a ten page work of great art and cinema and was promptly submitted to Zoetrope online to see how it would do as critiqued by other scriptwriters. For the most part it was split down the line. One teacher actually took the script and showed it to his/her class and thought it was a perfect script while another just “didn’t get it”. I could accept people not “getting it” as I was confident that I had a succinct vision on what was to take place in the film. I will comment that I feel this is a common failing amongst many “film maker’s” is a lack of vision. The results of a film lacking a distinct vision are usually disastrous and of poor quality as have been many previous NUTV projects.
I was desperate to have a meeting with eh original writer in hopes of discussing the changes and getting his ideas in return. Unfortunately at what was supposed to be a general meeting between the scriptwriters and the directors where I’d meet my writer for the first time turned out to be disastrous. First the students had written these scripts sometime earlier and only 4 of the 9 writers remained. My writer had left the school. I felt this might provide more freedom on my end, unfortunately I was told by both Jon Joffe and Mr. Martini that absolutely no revisions were to be made to the script save if they were impossible sequences to shoot under budget or if technical mistakes occurred.
Knowing that the quality script was the one revised by Matt and that I was convinced I must shoot that revised edition I proceeded to basically hide the script from the rest of the people in the program knowing that I could discuss it with others in general terms while only revealing the specifics to members of the film crew and some close acquaintances. Matt’s revised edition script was formatted and stamped with the Final Shooting Script Label.
Early meetings also brought another major issue to the table. It was stated that the directors were not to get involved in casting and this would be handled by the writers. I found this proposition quite absurd. Not involving directors in the casting of major actors is preposterous but again I was willing to concede to a point just because I wanted to make the film. Of course I was also made well aware later on that the person casting the film was not in fact by writer but the writer who now supervised my script and had no attachment to it whatsoever. I pressed the issue with Jon Joffe and he said no to any involvement. I then wrote to Mr. Martini in an email explaining my concerns and describing the characters and what I felt would be good traits in the actors who were cast. I also mentioned briefly that I had a specific actor in mind for a specific role of the Authority Figure who was described to be an aging professor type. I felt that the department of drama couldn’t fulfill this role because of they are limited to younger actors.
Mr. Martini returned my email and agreed to my Authority Figure casting and said to mention if I obtained any others. I was quite pleased and I cast that actor immediately. I soon sent off another email which contained all the extras involved in the production that I needed including some character specific roles that were needed such as construction crew and henchmen. I was emailed back by Erin my script supervisor confused as to why I was requesting these people and that I didn’t need “them” for “my” film. Later in a meeting with Jon which I’ll detail later it became apparent that Mr. Martini was in fact angered by this.
Early in the projects life I made mention to Jon that my film would require a few things. First and foremost to get the proper environment I would need a lot of extras. Initially I was thinking in the realm of 300 people to fill a large classroom to really give the film grand cinematic feel. I also told him I would be using a crane or a jib within that environment to properly capture the environment and the character’s relations within it. Jon was hesitant but didn’t really say anything to disagree and I assured him that I was perfectly capable of handling the situation as I had jib experience and that I had gathered a production crew with extensive experience including Pat my cameraman and a D.O.P. that had used a crane on a shoot in the summer. In a later meeting I reassured him and thought I was still in the clear to use a jib.
I promptly ordered a jib from a custom company in the USA specifically designed for DV cameras and even more specifically designed for an XL1 which was the camera I would be using. The Jib when it was all said and done cost me around 1100 dollars and is now sitting at home and is really cool!
Along with the Jib I was insistent on shooting the film in Widescreen. Specifically I would shoot in 4:3 framing for 16:9 and then matte the image in post. Again I met no resistance on talking about this so I prepared my storyboards based on this approach. Everything seemed to be moving just fine when it came crashing down on Friday, February 14, the day I was originally supposed to go visit my mom in Ottawa but had cancelled in order to focus on my film.
I walked into NUTV like any other day to hang out. Jon hauled me into his office to discuss my film. He sat me down and told me in specific terms that I was NOT to shoot the film on a jib as he deemed it too difficult and that it would drag MY film. He stated that he had extensive experience with this equipment and that it was a nightmare to use. I understood his complaint but insisted that I was in full control and the jib I had purchased was made specifically to be easy to use because of its design and its build for smaller cameras. I was shut down and told I was to not in any circumstance use a jib.
Furthermore I was not to shoot the film in widescreen. His excuse was quite honestly pathetic and insulting to my intelligence as he stated that widescreen matting in post requires a second render and effectively takes up twice as much space in post production. Unfortunately for him I’m a computer geek and I now my compression. Basically when I enter my film into the computer it is compressed at 10-1 under NUTV’s requirements for independents or NUTV film projects. The amount of space available on the hard drives when no information is on them is 80 gigs. At 3-1 compression which is what our stories are under the drives can hold about 160 min of footage. That’s of course around 500 mb’s a minute. At 10-1 compression that volume moves to 166 mb a min. My film was to total about 10 minutes of length meaning that I would require 1.66 gigs for my film. Matted would double to 3.3 gigs. Our regular show has each story at about 2 minutes at 3-1 compression meaning a regular story would be about a gig of space. My finished film would take about 6 minutes of regular space up and being that this space was not on the production computer but a second computer with space exclusive to our projects and the fact that 3 were being edited at my time that left even with the expectation of other projects also on the computer well over 10 gigs for my project. In fact with my storyboarding I would upload and include only what I need so that I would actually use LESS space than the other two projects.
Finally I was talked to about my casting. Apparently Mr. Martini had air a grievance to Jon on my request for others in casting. I was told that in fact my emails, which I said sent in confidence, were in fact being sent to Jon so that he could see what I was up to. My grievance on this point is that A if the Drama department requests or agrees to cast the films and if I am told not to interfere then I should be able to expect that all my parts will be cast without complaint and that it would not confuse Mr. Martini and Erin when a film involving many extras requires many more actors than the principal 3. I received an email saying that the writers had discussed this and stated that in fact WE the directors were to cast those parts even though I had been told they were casting. I was not put off by this because I had more control over acting with this. Mr. Martini had in fact emailed Jon saying that he felt that I was overextending the program and asking them for things they couldn’t provide. I was then told to write a letter of apology to Mr. Martini because he didn’t want relations hurt. This was a little much for me and I wrote a letter to NUTV and the Drama department the next day removing myself from the program.
In summary I believe I just was a little too advanced in vision and experience to be involved with NUTV on this project. I was not told when I applied that I would be restricted to the original script, would not be able to cast my actors and then not be able to request other actors when my control was removed, that I would not be able to film the picture the way in which I felt would best suit the film and be restricted with the jib and my choice of aspect ratio when that responsibility lay on me not NUTV, and to have my emails sent to people with which they weren’t intended was disrespectful basically saying that I had no ability in what my job description was director to know what I want and to request it. This is what the entire argument comes to was I in fact ever truly aloud to direct. As I found out in NUTV’s description specifically Jon’s is that the director only basically directs the actors and that’s it. If I wanted to focus specifically on actors I would do stage and not concern myself with the beauty and freedom that film provides, especially in the visual department. I think in the end the program could have had a film called Spanish 201 that would make the program proud and could showcase what NUTV could produce, instead I believe they cut of the blood supply that began and ended with my involvement and now sits dead on the side of the road.
Sorry for the length! :)
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Well I am currently in the middle of one of the best weeks of film in my brief history. So far I have had the opportunity to view Gangs of New York, About Schmidt and The Two Towers in the span of 2 days. In 6 hours I'll be viewing Chicago and in another day Confessions of a dangerous mind. Lets go to Gangs first:
Friday, December 13, 2002
I'm desperate to get my sleeping back on track. I can't funtion as a normal human being if I wake up at 3pm and don't sleep until 7am! I had a chance to see about 25 minutes of Oblivion. I am extremely impressed with what I see. I try to be a hard observer, but I keep finding myself blown away with how everything is turning out! I hope that the Oblivion website is fully up soon. You can check out the shell here. The site was designed by Matt, oblivions script writer. Austin has also informed me that he has decided to give me an associate producer credit on the film, because I fill a non-specific roll, but have been a big help none the less! I really apreciate this and am very honoured, and everyone will see why when Oblivion is unleashed. In the meantime my movie of the day is:
Thursday, December 12, 2002
"Run Don't Walk!"
I had a wonderful cinematic experiance tonight when I rewarded myself for finishing this semester's work at University with a film that I consider to be one of the very best of the year. Far From Heaven is a throwback to all those classic 50's films grown up into modern sensebilities. It features two brilliant performances by Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore. I wouldn't be suprised if both of them win an Oscar let alone get nominated. I have since placed it #4 on my top 10 films of 2002 behind Road to Perdition, Punch Drunk Love and Songs From the Second Floor. I implore everyone to go find this film and cherish it. Here is what a few reviewers had to say:
"What could have easily become a cold, calculated exercise in postmodern pastiche winds up a powerful and deeply moving example of melodramatic moviemaking."
-- Ken Fox, TV GUIDE'S MOVIE GUIDE
"A powerful and telling story that examines forbidden love, racial tension, and other issues that are as valid today as they were in the 1950s."
-- James Berardinelli, JAMES BERARDINELLI'S REELVIEWS
"The film's three leads are extraordinary, but what Moore does with her role is so beyond the parameters of what we call great acting that it nearly defies categorization."
-- Manohla Dargis, LOS ANGELES TIMES
"Without resorting to camp or parody, Haynes (like Sirk, but differently) has transformed the rhetoric of Hollywood melodrama into something provocative, rich, and strange."
-- J. Hoberman, VILLAGE VOICE
"From living room furniture to chain smoking at a cocktail party, Haynes gives the film the verisimilitude of a time and place where reflex, ritual and function disguised what people really thought and felt."
-- Duane Dudek, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Considering i have little interest in writing my last essay due tomorrow at 6pm, I am quite happy with my introduciton. Check it out!
An egregious error was committed by Paul Mazursky when he commissioned himself to direct a revisionist film of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. What Mazursky created in his revision was a film that proposed to include the history leading up to the events played out in the original play. That proposal in itself was not what I propose was a significant error, rather a change within the characterization of two of the play’s major players, specifically the King of Naples, Alonso who became Alberto Alonzo, a baron of a casino empire, and Prospero’s brother, also the Duke of Milan, Antonio who was changed into a female character Antonia Dimitrious, an aging actress and Phillip Dimitrious’s (Prospero) wife. Tempest (1982) is not a failure if you contextualize the film by itself, as both Alonzo and Antonia are both well written and played rolls. Unfortunately for Mazursky, Tempest must be considered in relation to the original text, as it is a direct descendent of The Tempest. What this essay will study is the relationships between Alonso and Antonio in The Tempest versus Alonzo and Antonia in Tempest. What I propose is that the alterations by Mazursky subvert the original text’s intentions and hurts the film both within itself and in relation to the original text.
Heres another pic:
"Guess this pic and win a prize! Post in comment section!"
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Here is a nice picture I took and like to look at when Im writing essays!
"Aw nice branches and stuff. You wouldn't knwo by looking but the house behind the picture was being destoryed at the time and is now wiped from the face of the earth!"
Ahhhhh...I am sick of writing essays. I am almost done my fourth in a week, posted below, and I have one more to go. weeee! In oreder to have the context for this essay you will have to read my previous review of the film High School a few posts below! Going to bed now. Tomorrow at noon I finish!
Earlier this week a trite little critique of the film High School (1969), directed by Frederick Wiseman, made its way into my hands. Aptly titled “Practice Review”, the essay contained if nothing else a familiar, and under supported critique of the film, and only hinted at a decision as to whether or not the other actually enjoyed the film. Perhaps he had previously studied how not to have a properly supported point of view from the likes of Rafferty, or Rosenbaum. Never the less the critique had a lot of potential, if it only moved away from the over use of quotes from Oliver Stone films and focused more on the film’s many qualities using formal analysis, semiotics, different ideological critiques, polysemy, and post-modernist theory. What the reviewer would have found was a much deeper film that could justify its reactionary stance, rather than the author’s initial reaction that it was far too methodically put together to be considered a brilliant piece of direct cinema.
When breaking down the original critique into its fundamental arguments it is obvious that the writer spent very little time dealing with a formal analysis of the film or “the elements that constitute the cinematic ‘text’”(Bellour, 28). The review’s second paragraph states “High School does not follow a standard narrative, rather the film jumps between events in the high school over many days” (1), the writer then goes on to state that “the fundamental problem with a High School lies in how it was edited” (3). Unfortunately the writer only pays lip service to one of the film’s most brilliant aspects, which can only be found in a true formal analysis. First he should have dug deeper into the films editing. The way the film was edited is only a piece of the films puzzle. If one looks just at how the film was edited, he would find a subversive, therefore unforgiving and a “look at everyday school life [that] quickly boils over into a raging anti-authority, anti-establishment ethic (3). What the critique should have also considered was sound, shot composition, and shot selection, which translated into the material that would be edited into a final product.
The sound is its own character in High School. The teachers walk around the school as tyrants commanding their students to follow the rules and conform. We hear the gym teacher tell off a bully, and then bully a kid who was simply trying to defend his position against another tyrant (teacher). We see a teacher point out girls’ faults, we see a teacher march down the hallway exacting authority of all those who dare enter the hall without a hall pass, and we see another teacher command his students to conform to the classic Jewish lifestyle, where the women do the banking. We also hear the sound of music in personal training where all the girls dance to what Sammy says. We also hear the sounds of many different languages, be it French, Spanish or English, as well as the language of Paul Simon. What we hear very little of is the sounds of the students. They are given little outlet, and seem to be shut down at every corner by the overbearing teacher authority.
The critique gives no space to shot composition and shot selection. The director followed a distinct visual style. The teachers are shown mostly in close-up, low angle shots, which give the authority figures an ominous look. The students are usually shot below the waist or from behind where they are sitting, grouping the students into a mass, which aids in the films argument that mass conformity is the burden the students are faced with. Students are only given a face when they choose to express themselves. The director then pulls out into a full frame composition highlighting both their faces and bodies, placing them in a far more sympathetic light then the teachers they are facing. It is also important to note the effort that went into reducing the impact that the filmmakers themselves had on the events that took place within the film. The filmmakers spent half a year beforehand integrating into everyday school life so that the situations and scenes would be natural and not reactionary to the camera’s eye. Perhaps if the original critique had noted these formal aspects of the filmmaking process, it would have concluded that the film was extremely well filmed and edited direct cinema piece that effectively captured high school life.
A semiotic analysis of the film, specifically what the film denotes and connotes. Like Barthes’s argument that “each moment in wrestling is [like] algebra which instantaneously unveils the relationship between a cause and its represented effect” (Barthes, 18), Wiseman shows High School as an organism that reveals each moment as a cause and studies its effect. The original critique, “Practice Review” deals with the denotative and connotative effects of High School but does not categorize the film into the two classes. The introduction states that High School is a “raw portrait of an American high school located in North East Philadelphia” (1). I would also suggest that the writer include a more descriptive vision of the school. The school itself is a modern, non-descript brick building meant for maximum capacity, and sticks out amongst the suburban setting. The essay also denotes the every day life of school where “students hurdle through their different classes” (1) and where physical education is where “the girls dance in ordered lines, while the boys run around in a giant group trying to keep a giant ball in the air” (1). The critique also reveals the connotative effect that the film has on the viewer when he states that “what the film quickly dispels is the myth that the high school is a creative and critical outlet for the youth of America” (2). I would also suggest that the reviewer should have gone further and examined the deeper ideological effects of the school, which will be examined below.
Guillory argues in “The Ideology of Canon-Formation” that ideology is conceived “as an unconscious ‘system of representations’” (338) and then goes on to argue that “it is not at all evident what sort of ‘truth’ is produced by a critique of ideology, except that such truth aspires to overcome the philosophical antitheses between fact and value” (338). I argue that the “Practice Review” could not overcome
----------------this is a break where I will be adding ideological crit later-------------------------------------
The most egregious error of “Practice Review” was the complete exclusion of a postmodernist critique. High School can be analyzed using the five principles of postmodernism; 1. A Breakdown of the distinction between culture and society, 2. An emphasis on style rather than substance, 3. A breakdown of high and low culture, 4. Confusion over space and time, and 5. The decline of the Meta-Narrative.
The distinction between culture and society is blurred in High School. Teen culture of the 60’s is shown to be one of greater personal expression, be that artistically, politically, or sexually. The high school system seeks to downplay this expression and grind societal expectations into the heads of the students. The film itself does not breakdown the distinction so much as the teachers and the school system attempts to do so in the film.
Direct cinema is considered to be realist cinema, or a form which places substance above style. I would argue that High School is in fact an exercise of style over substance. When broken down in a formal analysis the film is composed of five minute scenes with random interactions between students and teachers. The film shares no cohesive narrative and asks no questions and provides no answers. The argument that the editing achieves the effect of providing substance is rightly questioned in the original critique: “Wiseman’s practice of editing the way he did undermines his whole attempt at realistically portraying the high school environment and classes himself in the same light as the teachers” (3). Perhaps a shift in technique towards a classical documentary feel would have provided more substance and help express what the filmmaker wanted to say.
The film does represent a breakdown in high/low culture. The movement of direct cinema in the 60’s represented a significant shift in the high culture attitude towards lower culture. Wiseman’s raw portrait of the high school gathers both emotional and ideological responses that could be enjoyed by the “low” culture, or the teenagers and the working class families, as well as the “high” culture professors and film elitists who would appreciate the films significant formal qualities.
The film is assuredly postmodernist in that it confuses space and time. The students and teachers are confined to the school and are not shown outside where they spend the majority of their time. The school is represented as its own living breathing microcosm that seems to never shut down. During the length of the film the viewer is given very few indications of time. Events happen randomly, from the male sex instruction, to the Football rally, to the fashion show, to the conclusion of the space program, we have to guess that the events are assembled in chronological order or blended to represent what Wiseman felt was what he wanted as an account of the high School.
Finally Wiseman’s view of high school is one where the decline of the meta-narrative is at its most rapid pace. Wiseman parallels the blending of society and culture with the decline of the meta-narrative. The original review states that “the film constructs a version of education where children are mass produced under a banner of democratic though and churned out into their ‘rightful’ positions in life” (2). I see that statement as a parallel for religion, where you substitute ‘education’ for ‘god’ or ‘religion’. The separation of church and state seems to be a central struggle within the film, as the teachers try to teach proper ‘Christian’ values, while the students would rather guide themselves with their own voice. The school is shown to struggle with this change as they introduce safe sex, but disallow outfits that rise above the knees.
Monday, December 09, 2002
While I am at it, here are 2 more photos from the series I shot while in my photography class:
"Guess the vehicle and win a prize"
Below is my first paragraph of a direct response to a review a did at the start of my semester earlier this year. The response is actually an assigned essay worth some 30% of my mark in my visual culture class. My Prof did a brilliant thing in subverting our normal expectations of what a final examination is and I decided to subvert as well. As you can see below I poke fun at my own essay. This is fun!
Earlier this week a trite little critique of the film High School (1969), directed by Frederick Wiseman, made its way into my hands. Aptly titled “Practice Review”, the essay contained if nothing else a familiar, and under supported critique of the film, and only hinted at a decision as to whether or not the other actually enjoyed the film. Perhaps he had previously studied how not to have a properly supported point of view from the likes of Rafferty, or Rosenbaum. Never the less the critique had a lot of potentials, if it only moved away from the over use of quotes from Oliver Stone films and focused more on the film’s many qualities using formal analysis, semiotics, different ideological critiques, polysemy, and post-modernist theory. What the reviewer would have found was a much deeper film that could justify its reactionary stance, rather than the author’s initial reaction that it was far too methodically put together to be considered a brilliant piece of direct cinema.
Jim Garrison, the lead character in Oliver Stone’s JFk (1991) summed up America’s mistrust of subversive American authority best in his summation to the jury near the end of the film; “when it smells like it, feels like it, and looks like it, you call it what it is - it's Fascism!” The film High School (1969), directed by Frederick Wiseman, an early practitioner and master of direct cinema, who has made such films as; Welfare (1975), and Juvenile Court (1973), is a raw portrait of an American high school located in North East Philadelphia, which houses inadequate authority figures, the teachers, who show an extreme inability to handle the students who attend.
High School does not follow a standard narrative, rather the film jumps between events in the high school over many days. We are shown only a small glimpse of high school life as the students hurdle through their different classes. In English a teacher is shown trying to deconstruct Paul Simon’s songs as poetry. In physical education the girls dance in ordered lines, while the boys run around in a giant group trying to keep a giant ball in the air. We are also shown preparations for a fashion show where girls show off their dresses and get unflattering comments about their figure from the teacher and a sexual education assembly where the boys are taught about virginity.
We hear mostly from the teachers, as they order their students around school. One administrator walks the halls ordering around all the students who don’t have hall passes. Another teacher reprimands one student for fighting with a classmate, and another student for refusing to workout due to health concerns.
What the film quickly dispels is the myth that the high school is a creative and critical outlet for the youth of America and high school as a place where teens can make individual choices for their future. Rather, the film constructs a version of education where children are mass produced under a banner of democratic thought and churned out into their ‘rightful’ positions in life. The film opens with a set of non-descript automobiles driving down an unknown road to an unknown destination. What the high school in this film produces is the same sentiment, that the youth leaves school having been dictated a single attitude about their society.
The students in the film are given very few opportunities to speak. They are usually only seen expressing themselves when in trouble. Incidents include a boy who believes he was wrongly kicked out of class for having been humiliated by some other students, a girl who wore a little shorter than knee-high skirts, and another girl for going against her parents and teachers wishes and opting to attend beauty school. All these events are the sparks of individualism that are quickly put out by the authority of the school, and the students are quickly shuffled back into line to receive their scripted learning. In fact the only real individuals in the film other than the teachers are a couple of American soldiers stationed in Vietnam, one who visits the school after a tour of duty, and another who has a letter read aloud in memory after having been killed in the war.
The fundamental problem with High School lies in how it was edited. When viewing a piece of direct cinema we cannot be fooled into believing that it is a complete representation of everyday living, in this case the high school environment. Frederick Wiseman carefully builds an extremely pointed view of the whole proceedings through careful editing. What seems at first an honest look at everyday school life quickly boils over into a raging anit-authority, anti-establishment ethic. Vadim Rizov, a critic for Movie-Vault.com praises High School but agrees it is overly sympathetic to the students; “The only really irksome thing is that Wiseman omits just about everything that could have put the school in a favorable light. Wiseman's film is unbalanced to fit what his overall impression of the school was” . While I agree with Rizov’s opinion I will go further in saying that Wiseman’s practices of editing the way he did undermines his whole attempt at realistically portraying the high school environment and classes himself in the same light as the teachers in High School.
As with Jim Garrison I firmly believe that when it smells like it, and looks like it you call it what it is. Certainly High School is representative of the fascist way in which high schools were run and are still being run today, but it is also a study in how to throw the balance of an unbiased eye of the camera through careful editing, which in the end undermines the audience in provoking our deepest sentiment about the treatment of children at school and lessens a mostly well constructed film.
I gotta get some sleep!
I just rewatched Vanilla Sky for the first time in about 6 months. What a brilliant film. It is one of the few films I have seen recently (Solaris as well!) that really captures your attention and bends your mind. Cameron Crowe is on a roll with both Vanilla Sky and Almost Famous. I can't wait for what he has to say next.
"She is the saddest girl to ever to hold a martini."
I would also like to award Vanilla Sky with the best trailer of 2001! My god it is the perfect example of how to draw someone into a film, without revealing the ending "cough" sweet home alabama "cough".
Please do check out the trailer here! It will blow your mind guarenteed!
Oh and a little bit of trivia. Cameron Crowe made a special appearance in a recent summer blockbuster, shown here:
"I need your help. You contain information. I need to know how to get at it. ."