Cooley High

Dir: Michael Schultz. 1975. Starring: Glynn Turman, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Cynthia Davis, Garrett Morris. English. Black Cinema.
Cooley High

Set in the last days of Cooley High’s 1964 class, the film follows the extracurricular exploits of a disaffected young writer, Preach (Turman), and his more matriculatedly inclined friend and local sports star, Cochese (Hilton-Jacobs). Based on the post-adolescent years in Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project of writer and the film’s primary auteur, Eric Monte, the story serves as a counter-narrative to the white-flight reactionary dreaming of American Graffiti. Where that film sought to return the disillusioned 70s mainstream audience to simpler and happier times, pre-JFK assassination, Monte places his characters right under the storm cloud a-brewin’ and still manages to find the same teen-aged joie de vivre one encounters in Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Dazed and Confused.

Preferring lived experience to the more academic variety, Preach spends his days ducking classes, gambling, drinking, smoking dope, trying to get into the pants of the best-looking girl in the neighborhood, Brenda (Davis) and dreaming of being a Hollywood writer. Cochese has considerably less trouble with the girls and makes plans for college. With a bit of movie magic, it turns out that Brenda loves the same poets Preach does, while Cochese has learned that he’s going to the school of his choice with a full scholarship. Although the film delivers as many comedic highs as any suburban teen comedy, the graffiti-ridden streets framed by the petroleous columns of Chicago’s metro railways taints the wish-fulfilling qualities it shares with a John Hughes flick. And, sure enough, the film takes on a more somber tone after Preach and Cochese go on a joyride with some felonious friends in a Cadillac.

It’s a disgrace that one of the great teenage films can only be seen in this pan-and-scan version, rather than its actual 1:85:1 ratio. Couldn’t we be spared another re-release of American Pie in favor of a proper restoration for a much superior film? Unfortunately, it’s primarily remembered as a blueprint for Monte’s television creation, What's Happening. If you have any fond remembrance of that program or Monte’s Good Times, I recommend you check out his original ideas, before they were neutered by the likes of Norman Lear.

Posted by:
Charles Reece
Feb 2, 2008 2:47pm
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