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A Collection of Sean Penn-free Flicks

I confess, I’m a major movie nut case: I own over a thousand movies; I have been collecting movies since I was ten. Last year I’m positive I saw around 600 films, and I’m well on my way to breaking that personal record this year. For me, movies have been the source of some of the greatest and most immediate inspiration an artist could hope to have. I watch movies while I work on art, pet my dog, kiss my mom goodnight, put on my socks, brush my teeth, but not when I take a bath. On average, I watch around 10 movies a week, more if I can swing it, so narrowing down this month’s selection was pretty difficult. To complement this month’s special section on school and money, I selected films about schools that you might not be familiar with, or may have forgotten about. My selection spans 40 years and 3 continents.

So here they are! Grab some Ho Hos and a beer, and enjoy!

High School
1968
Dir: Frederick Wiseman

Frederick Wiseman’s documentary Film, High School, explores a suburban high school in the late 1960s. No narration is provided, nor are any specific students followed around during the course of the day. Instead, Wiseman provides a view into the excruciating absurdities and routines of high school life. Though this film is 40 years old, most viewers will be able to feel pangs of sympathy for these confused and taunted kids. High School shows that no matter how much time goes by, or where you are growing up, the awkwardness and painfulness of socialization and puberty always sucks.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
1969
Dir: Ronald Neame
Writers: Muriel Sparks, Jay Presson Allen
Cast: Maggie Smith, Robery Stephens, Pamela Franklin

Brilliant film version of Muriel Spark’s 1961 novel of the same name. The title character (played by Maggie Smith) is an aging, sexually vivacious schoolteacher who loves to give her young and impressionable female students detailed accounts of her many love affairs. Due to the controversial closeness she shares with ‘‘her girls,” she causes major rifts at her provincial, conservative Edinburgh school, and is constantly under threat of being fired. She’s able to escape punishment most of the time using sharp wit and formidable intellect. Maggie Smith is intoxicating as Miss Brodie, and, for much of the film, she portrays the kind of teacher any young person dreams of having: exciting, controversial, permissive and liberating. While the school environment of Miss Jean Brodie differs from what most viewers have probably experienced in America, the central conflict of trying to individuate from an influential adult may prove familiar for many viewers. This is a fascinating example of the dangers of transference and counter-transference in a school environment.

Class of Nuke ‘Em High
1986
Dir: Richard W. Haines, Michael Herz
Writers: Richard W. Haines Lloyd Kaufman
Cast: Janelle Brady, Gil Brenton, Richard Prichard

From the creators of The Toxic Avenger, comes Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Tromaville High is located just one quarter mile away from a nuclear power plant. When something goes wrong at the plant, the students start behaving strangely, insanely mutating, and even inexplicably giving birth to hideous atomic offspring.
Aside from hilarious low budget violence, twisted monsters and bad acting, Class of Nuke Em’ High is a meditation on adolescent fears of STDs, pregnancy, nuclear war and apocalypse. The fantasy of the safe, sheltered high school period of life suddenly corrupted by mutants is what makes this movie really exciting; the school where Nuke ‘Em was filmed could easily be the same school as was portrayed in Frederick Wiseman’s High School, only all of the dark subtexts and revenge fantasies have been fully realized in latex monsters, insane hair cuts, and buckets and buckets of blood, guts and radioactive ooze.

Jidu Hanleng aka Frozen
1996
Dir: Xiaoshuai Wang
Writers: Ming Pang, Xiaoshuai Wang
Cast: Hongshen Jia, Xiaoqing Ma, Yu Bai

Frozen is based on the true story of a young Chinese art student who tries to turn his own suicide into an epic work of art. While his mother and girlfriend beg and plead with him to stop, his art professor encourages him to take the final plunge and end his life for the sake of his vision. The scenes of Qi Lei (played by Honshen Jia) melting an entire block of ice with his own body heat are terrifying and heartbreaking, as Qi Lei shows just how far he feels he must go in order to be loved and respected by his peers and the art world. The movie drags in spots, yet its plot twists and fascinating look into the underground Beijing art scene make it well worth the effort.

Ondskan aka Evil
2003
Dir: Mikael Håfström
Writers: Jan Guillou, Hans Gunnarsson
Cast: Andreas Wilson, Henrik Lundström, Gustaf Skarsgård

This Swedish movie was released in America under the rather unfortunate name of Evil (which makes it sound like a horror film, which it’s not). Evil takes us into the life of one Erik Ponti, a troubled and abused 18 year-old lad who is kicked out of school for severely beating up another boy. Erik’s mother, in an attempt to get him away from his abusive father, sends Erik to a fancy-pants private boarding school. Though Erik is treated to a more progressive and stimulating private school education, the upperclassmen are all horrible, rich brats, who rule the rest of the student body with an iron fist by taunting, beating and bullying their classmates into insanity. In one scene, they even throw a bucket of fresh excrement into Erik’s dorm room. Highly recommended to anyone who has attended school in a rather claustrophobic environment, and who, like Erik, often had to choose between abandoning

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