- Text by Alex King
Whether or not you’ve stepped foot in an American high school, such is the reach of the high school movie that from Berlin to Bangkok, we all know exactly how it feels to be terrorised by the jocks, blanked by the popular kids or ridiculed in gym class.
In 1984, documentary filmmaker Keva Rosenfeld captured the sickly-sweet Reagan-era American Dreaming at a high school in Modesto, California. The resulting film won positive reviews but then disappeared into a vault at PBS, gathering dust.
Three decades later Rosenfeld has resurrected his barely-seen footage, caught up with his adolescent subjects to see how they’re coping with real life and edited it all together into All American High Revisited.
As the film hits the UK, here’s our celebration of the best high school movies. But this is Huck’s alternative list, so we’ll be including fiction and documentary, leaving the US and seeing a whole load of tough shit – abortions, indoctrination and criminality – that Hollywood wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.
The Tribe (2014)
The Tribe is set in a neglected Ukrainian school for deaf children. There’s no dialogue; every conversation that takes place happens in sign language and there are no subtitles because “For love and hate you don’t need translation.”
Pizza-faced freshman would get eaten alive in this Lord of the Flies world where tribal violence and organised crime pushes out essays and book reports, and a graphic abortion replaces the usual prom night fumbling. Brutal, gripping and essential viewing.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)
The film’s working title ‘Disco High’ reveals that this was a straight-up exploitation flick, with producer Roger Corman hoping to cash in on whatever kids were listening to at the time. But after dumping the flares and disco balls, and shoehorning the Ramones into the script, what emerged was a cult-classic.
Palo Alto (2013)
Gia Coppola’s moody directorial debut captures the narcissism and listlessness of teenage years as frigid April attempts to navigate between the immaturity of her stoner crush Teddy and the inappropriate affections of her high school soccer coach, Mr B.
High School (1968)
After taking advantage of the newly available lightweight cameras of the 1960s to shoot Titticut Follies in a hospital for the criminal insane, Wiseman and his crew’s next stop was Northeast High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A picture slowly emerges of an institution geared towards the production of conformity and indoctrination to fuel America’s imperialist war in the jungles of South East Asia.
Entre Les Murs (2008)
Entre Les Murs or The Class feels so real it could easily be mistaken for a fly-on-the-wall documentary. In fact, it’s based on François Bégaudeau’s semi-autobiographical novel, informed by his experiences as a French literature teacher in the cultural melting pot of Paris’ gritty 20th arrondissement. Set over an entire school year, the film plays out like an epic battle between Bégaudeau and his class of “problem children” whose resistance exposes the hypocrisies of middle class society and France’s relationship with its immigrant communities.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused plays out last day of school in the summer of 1976 in Austin, Texas, and dials in on the kids of the counter-culture. It also features a stellar before-they-were famous cast including, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich and Adam Goldberg.
Based on the infamous Columbine shootings in 1999, Elephant was the first major film to explore the topic and had to fight through more than its fair share of controversy – with many arguing it would encourage copycat attacks.
Donnie Darko (2001)
A decade and a half after its release, has anyone worked out what the hell is going on in Donnie Darko? Despite no-one I’ve ever met being able to provide a convincing explanation for the mix of pseudo-science, pop-psychology and downright weird shit that goes down, it’s still one of the most distinctive and memorable high school movies. Frank the Bunny: we still see you in our nightmares.
Wes Anderson’s take on the high school movie takes us to Rushmore Academy, an exclusive private school in Houston, Texas where Max Fisher’s remarkable extra-curricular activities prove incapable of making up for his shocking grades and he’s eventually expelled. While trying to win back his place, he feuds with industrialist Herman Blume for the affections of widowed teacher Rosemary Cross.
Battle Royale (2000)
Teen rebellion gets the ultimate comeuppance as a walk-out by 800,000 students results in the passage of the BR act. Class 3-B experience the new law up close and personal as they’re gassed on a field trip, fitted with electronic collars, and forced to fight to the death on a remote island.
Check out the review of All American High Revisited at our sister mag Little White Lies.