Cameron Crowe’s experiences of a year spent attending classes, undercover, at Clairemont High School in San Diego was documented in his 1981 book Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story. Crowe’s account spawned the 1982 comedy film Fast Times at Ridgemont High while the 1980’s saw the production of several other films, representing teenage life in U.S high schools including The Breakfast Club. Earning a place amongst Teachers TV’s top ten school movies (The Guardian, 2008) The Breakfast Club, directed by John Hughes invites a critique of the school as a location of disciplinary power (Fisher et al., 2008). In recognition of the contribution of the film to an understanding of the socio-politics of schooling, along with its continued relevance, it was inducted into the U.S National Film Registry in 2016.
Amongst these coming-of age dramas All American High, a 1985 film directed by Keva Rosenfield stands out, not because it deviates dramatically from the coming of age theme, but because it is a documentary. Thirty years on, All American High Revisted is a re-released, remastered version which includes revisting some of the students who featured in the 1985 film.
Keva Rosenfield’s documentary follows the class of 84 at Torrance High School in California. Unlike Wiseman’s High School which focuses on power relations within the institution, All American High Revisited explores the social lives of students as they are mediated via the school. In All American High Revisited Finnish exchange student Riikkamari (Rikki) Rauhala provides a narration which serves to make the space of the U.S high school, made familiar through drama, strange. Contrasting Torrance High with her experience in a Finnish school, where teenagers are keen to get away from school as quickly as possible, she observes
High School is the teenagers own world where they live and all the teenager’s life is around the High School
There are numerous opportunities available at Torrance High, and Rikki summarises these well:
I think High School prepares more for social life than work life
It isn’t had to see why she thinks this. Located in Los Angeles, near the coast, Torrance High School has a surf team to this day and the surf teacher in the film acknowledges he has chosen this job so he doesn’t need to take a vacation. Other opportunities open to Rikki include cheerleading and preparing for several dances and parties.
Towards the end of the scenes from the original film Rikki reflects on her time at Torrance, satisfied that she has achieved high grades, whilst doing very little work. She concludes
I’ve learnt to be lazy
In ‘where are they now’ style Rosenfield tracks down some of the students from the Year of 84. Cesar, an anti-establishment bass player is working in law enforcement in Highway Patrol. Michelle, who defended nuclear weapons is no longer a Republican. Robert, who hoped to go to Police Academy became a Policy Chief in Texas.
As she prepares to return to Finland, Rikki promises to return for a reunion in five or maybe ten years. She doesn’t. Thirty years later we see watching All American High with her family, and the children are predictably embarrassed, although her teenage daughter is impressed that she has friends made through real contact and not just the internet.