Thursday, September 9, 2010

Guest Post: Films that take you back to School

Guest post by freelance blogger Camiele White:

It’s now the beginning of September --time for books, cranky teachers, and the gruel that passes as school lunch; for being pushed and ignored in the hallways, calculus homework, and detention. School drama and trauma is a common theme in film. In fact, thanks to the genius and hindsight of the late John Hughes, school dramadies have become their own subgenre. It’s in the spirit of the everlasting teenager that this blog is written --to pay homage to a genre of film that beckons students back to the hallowed halls of education.

It’s only fair that we split this into three distinct categories: primary school, high school, and college. There are those films that are perfect for the whole family --giving children the excitement of an uncertain future and parents the nostalgia of crayons and spelling words. On the other hand, there are those films that are made just for the 18 and overs that connect on a very visceral level. The proper thing to do would be to pick a film or two from each age group that sum up the lazy days of school.

Primary School
Matilda: One of the most beloved books by one of my all-time favourite authors, Roald Dahl, Matilda tells the story of a young girl who struggles with the weight of her intelligence in a world wrought with ignorant adults who use their size and their power to reign over the small and inexperienced. This film was an incredible peek inside the psyche of an elementary school child. I’ve always marvelled at the film’s simplicity and ability to manage the fine balance between “cutesy” and dark --a skill that was
crafted brilliantly by Dahl himself. Entering into this new  world of big excitement and big adventures, a world in which one is no longer the exception. Matilda was an outcast in her family, but at school she was a friend and a confidante. She had the power to uplift (literally) the hopes of each and every student that walked through the darkened halls of Crunchem. This film did for kids what I imagine Animal House (which we’ll explore a little later) did for college hopefuls: bring a bit of freakshow and fantasy to the uninitiated. 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Though the first film of the Harry Potter franchise was, in my humble opinion, the weakest, one can’t miscount the film as a model of elementary school mystery. Yes, it was a film about wizards and witches. But there was an incredible sense of humanity and delicacy added to the film to bring it out of the darkness of witchcraft and into the lightness of a child’s imagination. Chris Columbus, known for his fluffy family films of the 90s, brought his keen eye for the whimsical and gave children the audacity to believe in magic again --something that had been a bit lacking in the films of the early new millennium. Harry, like Matilda, is coming from a home situation that is a wee bit less than comforting. In a world where you’re always ridiculed and locked away in a broom closet (or in this case, the cupboard under the stairs) Hogwarts was Harry’s only salvation. In these two films, it seems that school is being touted as a place of escapism where a child is encouraged to fully explore the precocious whims of his fancy. And isn’t that, my darlings, what elementary school was all about? Graham crackers and recess.

High School
The Breakfast Club: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one of the films that came courtesy of the Brat Pack in the mid-80s (plus, my brother would hate me forever, as it’s one of his favourite films). For the better part of that decade, John Hughes had the film industry in a choke hold. No film summed up the highs and crushing lows of high school than The Breakfast Club. Chronicling the sit-in Saturday of the nerd, the prom queen, the jock, the outcast, and the rebel; there’s nothing more evocative of the high school daze than having to explore the inner workings of our peers as they walk the hallways. The most profound statement that the film makes, boldly and unequivocally, is that no matter your perceived identity, you are the only one who knows who and what you truly are. It’s a film that allows each viewer to remember a time when they were defined by the restrictions of the yearbook superlatives. As a beacon of the forever young film industry, I simply must tip my hat to Hughes for his incredible use of objective hindsight.

Fame: Forget High School Musical, you poor, uninitiated tweensters. This film is the real deal: song, dance, drama that just won’t quit. As one of my all time favourite films of any era, Fame broke the boundaries of understanding the inner workings of the ordinary teenager thrown into extraordinary circumstances. In the halls of the New York High School of Performing Arts, lives are changed and hearts are constantly broken. It’s at this high school that we see how the passion that runs through teenage veins is nothing to sniff at. Every moment is a chance to slice your place in history; every second you’re being analysed by the hardest critics in the world: your peers. If that weren’t stress enough, you have exert as much energy in your regular classes (math, English, etc.) as you do in your speciality (dance, singing, acting). This film tapped into something that is universal with all teenagers --the desire to live forever.

Animal House: I’d be the biggest idiot in the world if I didn’t at least mention one of the most influential films of all time, Animal House --truly the greatest college focused film to ever hit the big screen. John Landis, along with some of the most promising talent in film John Belushi, Kevin Bacon, Karen Allen, and Harold Ramis (as one of the principal writers), made their mark on cinema history by showing the raw, unadulterated nasty of the college years --some of the best of life. One of the most memorable scenes ever place on celluloid, the toga party where everyone, drunken and full of vigour, parties with the house band (the fictional Otis Day and the Knights). The song “Shout” became the official party song of any college frat throw down. It remains one of those songs that can easily start a party riot. Jumpstarting the “gross-out” comedy genre, Animal House did more than introduce the film industry to unabashed raunch, it gave the world a paragon of frat life and the craziness surrounding the most ridiculous four years of any young person’s life. If you’re looking for a symbol of college guts, gore, and grossness, you won’t find anything more elegant or articulate than Animal House as a beacon of the college experience.

This is in no way an exhaustive list; however, there are moments in each of these take me back to some good memories. Animal House, for example, touches me personally as, not a mirror image, but certainly a reminder of one of my most treasured memories in my freshman year at university: sitting in the lobby of one of the main dorms and singing familiar childhood songs until 7 am, then walking to the McDonald’s on campus for a Saturday breakfast. It’s moments like these that make up the best moments of my life.

Article writer by day, renegade poet by night, Camiele White loves any and everything film. She chases only the original (or incredibly funny) and has been known to talk for hours about subjects that most people just don’t care about. Right now, she gets her jabberjaw jollies writing for Star Costumes. If you want to give her a buzz, she can be reached at cmlewhite at gmail [dot] com.

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