Some of us have no interest in reliving high school, but a documentary called All American High Revisited, which recently had its East Coast premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival, might make you wish you could return. The film offers a sweet glimpse of an almost forgotten, pre-digital life.
All American is a time capsule of untouched, original, 1984 footage shot at Torrance High School in California, back when movies were actually shot with film. Remember that? The story is narrated by a teenage Finnish exchange student, who spent her senior year integrated into the quintessential California high school experience of the '80s. We watch her and her American classmates in their exuberant high school days only three decades ago. The scenes are touching, but also comical, especially when you can see the difference 30 years has made in American life. And that is a big part of this documentary's charm.
This footage is from back in the day when there were word processors in the classrooms, auto mechanics class, and an electronics club that consisted of pinball machines. Besides sports, cheer leading and after-school, the filmmaker takes us inside the classrooms to observe some of high school's academic offerings. In Torrance, it was lifestyle classes. One teacher announced that in five years from that time, 85 percent of the students in the class would be divorcing. So the educators had the students hold mock weddings and then negotiate marital issues, such as where the couple will live, how they will raise their children, spend their time, and even decorate their homes. Ahhh... the innocence of youth.
The most fascinating part of the film is the simplicity of socialization among teenagers, pre-Facebook. Yes, there were the traditional prom queen and king, homecoming festivities and keg parties. But life just seemed softer and simpler without the Internet, social media and reality TV. It's bittersweet to see the technical divide between then and now. Whether at home or at school, those teenagers lived life in person. "We go to school and life revolves around each other," an observation of high school camaraderie then, in contrast to teens today, whose lives revolve around texting, tweeting, and Instagram posts.
The vintage footage is most refreshing, because none of the kids were playing to the camera or looking for their 15 minutes. This was back in the day before selfies and the "look at me" generation. The subjects were just living life captured on film, rather than re-enacting life for film. This gem provides a rare level of authenticity in filmmaking today.
Take a spin back to 1984 in All American High Revisited. You'll enjoy the ride.