Top 5 (Back to) “School Films”
September. The kids are back. Class is in session. Today’s lesson: “School Films.” By which I mean pictures that deal with school or academic life in particular. For example, Sixteen Candles doesn’t qualify. The Paper Chase does. What fascinates about this grouping is how uniformly it treats its subject. From comedy (Three O’Clock High) to docudrama (The Class) to pseudo-inspirational BS (Dangerous Minds), school is typically depicted as a harsh and compromising institution that may or may not be run by a bunch of unregenerate assholes. My theory about this runs as follows: that’s typically what school is. QED. My top five after the jump.
1. Back to School – Kind of a gimme, this one. Clothing magnate and incorrigible roué Rodney Dangerfield matriculates. Hilarity ensues. (It’s worth noting that this is about as positive a depiction of a school as you’ll find in this genre, and the teachers/administration are still depicted as prigs, rage-aholics, and rank opportunists.)
2. The Chocolate War – High school was never more hellish. A thoughtful, teenaged nonconformist pits himself against the clique that rules his stuffy private school with unpleasant results. The film’s “happy” ending deviated from the source novel and took a lot of criticism for it, but I find the picture thoroughly moving just the same. Also features some pretty daring soundtrack choices (Yaz!?) and is ironically enough directed by Keith Gordon, who played Dangerfield’s son in Back to School.
3. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Maggie Smith won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Edinburgh schoolteacher Jean Brodie — a proud, defiant woman who finds nothing wrong with espousing fascism (!) to her students. Directed by Ronald Neame, who’d go on to helm The Poseidon Adventure.
4. if… – Malcolm McDowell finds his high school sufficiently odious that he resolves to shoot everyone in it. Lindsay Anderson’s violent skewering of the English public school system coincided with the ’68 student uprisings in Paris, and was awarded an X rating by British censors. On a side note, 2Pac was a big fan, and there are several allusions to in his song Hit ‘Em Up.
5. Zéro de Conduite – Director Jean Vigo finds anarchy in the classroom. This surreal depiction of life in a boy’s school is a masterpiece of poetic detailing. Scratch that. It’s a masterpiece, period. The pillow fight sequence alone will knock you dead.