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Selected Films from
Higher Learning:
Reading and Writing About College


Selected Films — Where We’re Coming From

American Graffiti (1973, USA). The action takes place over one typical night for a group of high school graduates. Co-written and directed by George Lucas (the auteur behind the Star Wars trilogy). Comedy. 110 min. PG

Baby, It’s You (1983, USA). A Jewish girl and a Catholic boy come of age against a working-class background in the late ’60s. Written and directed by John Sayles. Comedy/Drama. 105 min. R

Breaking Away (1979, USA). Oscar winner (for best original screenplay) about a teen just out of high school searching for his identity through bicycle racing. Filmed on location at Indiana University. Comedy/Drama. 100 min. PG

Class (1983, USA). Two prep school roommates come up against class differences and a salacious secret neither one is fully aware of. Comedy/Drama. 98 min. R

Dead Poets Society (1989, USA). Set in the ’50s. Unorthodox prep school English teacher Robin Williams inspires his students to love literature. Oscar for best original screenplay. Drama. 128 min. PG

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982, USA). Based on the factual book by Cameron Crowe, who returned to high school as an adult masquerading as a student for a year. Film debuts of Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, and Nicolas Cage. Comedy. 90 min. PG

Just Another Girl on the IRT (1993, USA). A quick, sassy girl from the projects has designs on a med school career until her accidental pregnancy postpones her plans. A debut for both the lead actor (Ariyan Johnson) and director (Leslie Harris). Special Jury Award at Sundance Film Festival. Drama. 96 min. R

Mystic Pizza (1988, USA). Three young women of blue-collar Portuguese descent work in a pizzeria in the coastal town of Mystic, Connecticut, and one dreams of going to Yale. Romantic Comedy. 104 min. R

Noa at Seventeen (1982, Israel). Set in the ’50s. Against the backdrop of the newly formed and turbulent Israeli homeland, a middle-class family debates school ver-sus kibbutz for their daughter. In Hebrew; subtitled. Drama. 86 min.

October Sky (1999, USA). Based on the memoir Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam Jr., this true story begins in 1957 with Russia's historic launch of the Sputnik satellite. Homer sees Sputnik as his cue to pursue a fascination with rocketry, but winning the science fair is his only ticket to college and out of life in this West Virginia coal mining town. Drama. 108 min. PG

Risky Business (1983, USA). With his parents out of town, entrepreneurial Tom Cruise decides to spend the lull while waiting to hear from colleges dancing in his under-wear and organizing a prostitution ring. By the time he gets to college, he’s a wiser man. Comedy. 99 min. R

Rushmore (1999, USA). In this charmingly eccentric sleeper, Max Fischer — a frantically overactive 10th grader at Rushmore Academy — edits the school newspaper and yearbook; serves as president of the French Club, German Club, Chess Club, and Astronomy Club; captains the fencing and debate teams; and directs the Max Fischer Players, for whom he writes and produces plays about police corrup-tion,
inner-city violence, war, and other epic subjects. Comedy, 133 min. R

Say Anything... (1989, USA). A young kickboxer falls for the smart girl. She’s college bound; he’s maybe not. Comedy/Drama. 89 min. PG-13

Stand and Deliver (1988, USA). A class from an East L.A. barrio commits to taking the Advance Placement Test in calculus, inspired by their dedicated, tough-love teacher (James Edward Olmos). Drama. 105 min. PG


Selected Films — School Daze

The Addiction (1995, USA). Heroine Kathleen (Lili Taylor) is a PhD candidate in philosophy at NYU, lost in her ivory-tower world. This world dissolves after an attack by a vampire (Annabella Sciorra). Now instead of pondering the phenomenon of bloodshed, Kathleen finds herself subsumed within it. An ambitious exploration of the metaphor of the undead and the very human love of pain and violence. Horror/Drama, 90 min. R

Back to School (1986, USA). Fiftiesh millionaire Rodney Dangerfield goes to college to help his son become a big man on campus. Comedy. 96 min. PG-13

Bonzo Goes to College (1952, USA). A smart, spunky chimpanzee stars on the varsity football team. Comedy. 80 min.

Campus Man (1987, USA). Two college buddies, an entrepreneur and a studly athlete, team up to create a beefcake calendar. Comedy. 94 min. PG

Circle of Friends (1995, Ireland-USA). Three friends from a strict Catholic small town face old inhibitions and new freedoms when they go away to college in Dublin. Adapted from the Maeve Binchy novel. Romantic drama. 96 min. PG-13

Class of ’44 (1973, USA). College sequel to sentimental coming-of-age classic Summerof ’42. Drama. 95 min. PG

College (1927, USA). Brilliant silent film comedian Buster Keaton tries out for every sports team on campus. Comedy. 65 min.

College Humor (1933, USA). Classic crooner Bing Crosby stars as a singing professor. Musical comedy. 80 min.

Drive, He Said (1972, USA). Jack Nicholson directed this oddly told tale of coming-of-age angst and alienation. Scene stealer Bruce Dern plays the maniacal college basketball coach. Sports/Drama. 90 min. R

Fraternity Row (1977, USA). Fraternity hazing at an elite Eastern college in the mid-1950s. USC students formed the bulk of the cast and crew. Drama. 101 min. PG

French Postcards (1979, USA). American college juniors abroad in France. Reunites the writing team behind American Graffiti (minus George Lucas). Drama/Comedy. 92 min. PG

Frosh (1993, USA). Filmmakers spent a year living in a multicultural, co-ed dormitory at Stanford University. The film highlights such key issues as maintaining ethnic identity on a predominantly white campus, Eurocentric versus multiculturalcurricula and minority student retention. It documents students' difficult search for personal identity within an increasingly diverse student population. Documentary.
98 min. N/R

Good Will Hunting (1997, USA). Yale dropout Matt Damon and his costar Ben Affleck won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for their story of four working-class friends in South Boston, one of whom is a genius. When an M. I. T. math professor “discovers” Will Hunting, he insists that he stop wasting his talents, and sends him to psychologist/teacher Robin Williams to motivate him. Drama. 126 min. R

Greetings (1968, USA). In this Vietnam War farce (an early effort by thrill-meister Brian De Palma) Robert De Niro helps a buddy try to flunk his physical and escape the military draft. Comedy. 88 min. R

The Heart of Dixie (1989, USA) Three white southern college women find their lives and politics shifting as they confront the civil rights movement in the late ’50s. Drama. 96 min. PG

Higher Learning (1995, USA). Political correctness and race issues haunt several students, whose lives intersect briefly and tragically on the campus mall. Drama. 127 min. R

Horse Feathers (1932, USA). In this classic Marx Brothers farce, Groucho heads Huxley College, whose football team is in no shape for the big game. Musical comedy. 67 min

House Party 2: The Pajama Jam (1991, USA). Rap duo Kid ‘n’ Play raise their past-due college tuition with a house party “jammie jam jam.” All-star cast includes Queen Latifah and Martin Lawrence. Comedy. 94 min. R

Kent State (1981, USA). Emmy-winning made-for-TV movie about the 1970 tragedy at Kent State University, in which National Guardsmen shot and killed four college protesters. Political drama. 120 min.

Life Begins in College (1937, USA). The comedy/singing team The Ritz Brothers (Harry, Al, and Jimmy) help a college win the big game. This film catapulted the trio to stardom. Sports/Comedy. 94 min.

Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949, USA). Part of a series of films (Sitting Pretty, Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell) in which a self-important genius gets into various situations to prove one or another of his theories. Comedy. 83 min.

National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978, USA). Set pre-Vietnam in the early ’60s. What to do when a cabal of snobbish Greek societies and school administrators imperils your slushy frat house? Road trip, of course. Comedy. 109 min. R

P.C.U. (1994, USA) A freshman falls in with dorm mates who organize offensive activities. A social satire of political correctness. Comedy. 81 min. PG-13

The Program (1993, USA). A college football team’s cultish dedication to championship play drives some players nearly over the edge. Sports/Drama. 114 min. R

Real Genius (1985, USA). The treacherous head of an elite California technology institute scouts a team of the nation’s best physics students to achieve his own morally bankrupt agenda. Comedy. 104 min. PG
Revenge of the Nerds (1984, USA). A ragtag team of nerds, geeks, losers, and freaks starts its own fraternity in rebellion against the Greek elites. Comedy. 90 min. R

The Revolutionary (1970, USA). A college student gets caught up in the role of political revolutionary, until he’s in dangerously over his head. Drama. 100 min. PG

Roommate (1984, USA). Set in the ’50s, the film finds a straight-laced valedictorian and a political rebel sharing room and board. A PBS presentation based on John Updike’s story “Christian Roommates.” Comedy/Drama. 96 min.

School Daze (1988, USA). Homecoming weekend on a southern campus highlights how some blacks deny or affirm their racial identity. Directed by Spike Lee. Musical comedy. 114 min. R

School Ties (1992, USA). A handsome young Jewish prep school athlete hides his religion to survive anti-Semitism in the ’50s. Drama. 107 min. PG-13

Seniors: Four Years in Retrospect (1997, USA). The filmmakers of Frosh (see page 130) returned to Stanford three years later to see how college life had changed five of these students. Combining extensive footage shot during senior year with prophetic clips and “outakes” from Frosh, the two directors have produced an altogether new film focusing on the different trajectories students from diverse back-grounds
take to a fulfilling and successful college experience. Documentary. 56 min. N/R

Soul Man (1986, USA). A white student masquerades as a black for the sake of a minority scholarship — until he’s overcome by guilt after meeting the single black mother who was second in line for the money, and after learning lessons on race from his hectoring black professor (James Earl Jones). Comedy. 101 min. PG-13

Undergrads (1985, USA). Estranged from his son, feisty Art Carney decides to get to know his grandson better by attending college with him. Made for TV by Disney. Comedy. 102 min.

With Honors (1994, USA). After he finds a student’s honors thesis, a street bum (Joe Pesci) holds it for ransom. Comedy/Drama. 103 min. PG-13


Selected Films — Student Affairs

Double Happiness (1994, USA). A young Chinese-American woman has a romance with an Anglo college student against the wishes of her very traditional father. Comedy/Drama. 87 min. PG-13

First Love (1977, USA). An idealistic college student finds that neither his class-mates nor his girlfriend takes sex as seriously as he does. Based on Harold Brodkey’s story “Sentimental Education.” Romantic drama. 92 min. R

The First Time (1982, USA). A movie-loving college freshman has no luck with women despite counsel from his psych prof, who uses his dilemma as research. Comedy. 90 min. M

Foreign Student (1994, USA). A French foreign exchange student falls for a professor’s housekeeper, but she being black, and this being 1954, their affair stirs trouble at the conservative Virginia college. Adapted from the best-selling memoir of French filmmaker Phillipe Labro. Romantic drama. 96 min. R

The French Lesson (1986, Great Britain). A young English woman goes to Paris for a romantic education. Romantic comedy. 90 min. PG

Happy Together (1989, USA). A would-be playwright discovers that, through a mixup, his new college roommate is a flashy actress. Romantic comedy. 102 min. PG-13

How I Got Into College (1989, USA). A second-rate student scratches his way into college to pursue his dream girl. Comedy. 89 min. PG-13

Les Cousins (1959, France). Within the milieu of Parisian student life, a decadent city boy and his pure country cousin vie for the affections of the same young woman. Drama. 112 min.

A Little Stiff (1991, USA). A gen-X UCLA film student pines hopelessly for his classmate. Written by and starring Caveh Zahedi. Romantic comedy. 85 min.

Maurice (1987, Great Britain). Two male students feel they have to repress their mutual attraction, given the stifling sexual mores at Cambridge in the Edwardian era. Based on E.M. Forster’s novel of the same name. Drama. 140 min. R

Mother Is a Freshman (1949, USA). A beautiful mother and daughter, both attending the same college, both fall for the same handsome lad. Comedy. 81 min.

The Sterile Cuckoo (1969, USA). Liza Minnelli plays an aggressive college student pursuing a shy freshman boy. Comedy/Drama. 107 min. PG

Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927, USA). A young prince leaves his sheltered life to attend the university, where he falls for a beautiful commoner. A silent-film adaptation Sigmund Romburg’s operetta, directed by master Ernst Lubitsch. Romance. 105 min.

The Sure Thing (1985, USA). Spatting college students thrown together on a trip cross-country find love on the way. Romantic comedy. 94 min. PG-13

When He’s Not a Stranger (1989, USA). Intensely portrayed date-rape story. Made for TV. Drama. 100 min.


Selected Films — Teacher, Teacher

Children of a Lesser God (1986, USA). A speech teacher at a school for the deaf finds himself drawn to a tough, headstrong, beautiful janitor. Adapted from the play by Mark Medoff. Romantic drama. 119 min. R

Educating Rita (1983, Great Britain). A bright but unschooled hairdresser hires a tutor (a dissolute, alcoholic Michael Caine) to expand her literary horizons. Drama. 110 min. PG-13

Fast Break (1979, USA). Deli clerk Gabe Kaplan fast-talks his way into a job coaching college basketball. Sports/Comedy. 107 min. PG

The Freshman (1990, USA). Marlon Brando does a Godfather send-up as he gives a young film student (Ferris Bueller’s Matthew Broderick) an education in the school of life. Comedy. 102 min. PG

Gross Anatomy (1989, USA). A dying professor inspires a bright but lazy medical student. Comedy/Drama. 109 min. PG-13

Lucky Jim (1957, Great Britain). A lowly college lecturer bungles his attempts to impress his department head. Comedy. 95 min.

Oleanna (1994, USA). David Mamet wrote and directed this adaption of his controversial play about collegiate sexual harrassment and sexual politics. Drama. 89 min.

The Paper Chase (1973, USA). First-year law students toughen up to survive the acid wit of their intimidating professor (John Houseman). Comedy/Drama. 111 min. PG

Surviving Desire (1991, USA). A neurotic English professor falls for his student, who, for her part, is using the affair as fuel for her writing. Romantic comedy. 86 min.

Wonder Boys (2001, USA). A pot-smoking, aging writing teacher and his bizarre and brilliant student embark on a lost weekend that changes them both. Comedy/Drama. 120 min.


Selected Films— Looking Forward, Looking Back

Amongst Friends (1993, USA). Three wealthy suburban childhood friends turn to crime as young adults. Written and directed by 26-year-old Rob Weiss. Drama/ Crime. 86 min. R

The Big Chill (1983, USA). An ensemble cast of baby-boomers reunite for a long weekend after the suicide of an old college friend. Drama. 103 min. R

Carnal Knowledge (1971, USA). A gritty look at the seedy sex lives of two college pals (Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel) through the filter of their partners (among them Candice Bergen and Ann-Margret). Drama. 96 min. R

Class of ’63 (1973, USA). An old flame reignites at a class reunion. Drama. 74 min.

Four Friends (1981, USA). Three men who love the same woman find their entwined lives fractured by college, drug abuse, and the Vietnam War. Drama. 115 min. R

The Graduate (1967, USA). Director Mike Nichol’s watershed portrait of an aimless college graduate (Dustin Hoffman) whose progression from sex to love finally defines him. Drama/Comedy. 105 min. R

The Heidi Chronicles (1995, USA) Adapted by Wendy Wasserman from her Pulitzer Prize–winning play, the film follows a woman from prep school to Vassar College and on through her adult life and loves. Made for cable. Drama. 94 min.

Kicking and Screaming (1995, USA). Four recent college graduates don’t want to face the realities of life on the outside. Comedy. 96 min. R

Marie (1985, USA). True story of a single mother (divorced after her husband battered her) who works her way through school and finally rises to the head of the Tennessee parole board. Sissy Spacek stars. 113 min. PG-13

Poetic Justice (1993, USA) Pop star Janet Jackson plays a creative young woman who gives up her dream of college after her boyfriend is murdered. She becomes a hair stylist, but continues writing poetry (penned for the film by Maya Angelou). Sobering cinematography shows post-1992-riot South Central L.A. Drama. 109 min. R

Reality Bites (1994, USA). A bright young cast (Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo) stumbles into the real world after college. Romantic drama. 94 min. PG-13

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997,USA). Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino play ditzy best friends who attend their 10-year high school reunion, but they first completely remake their styles and identities in order to impress the people who tormented them. Comedy. 92 min. R

She’s Having a Baby (1988, USA) After a dismal try at grad school, Peter Pan–ish writer Kevin Bacon jives his way into an ad agency job, while he deals haphazardly with marriage, fidelity, and planning parenthood. Comedy. 106 min. PG-13

St. Elmo’s Fire (1985, USA). A loose-knit group of college friends finds that each of them bears a unique burden in facing adulthood. Drama. 108 min. R

When Harry Met Sally (1989, USA) After undergraduate school, Sally (Meg Ryan) carpools with her friend’s boyfriend, Harry (Billy Crystal), to New York. They meet by chance many times over the years, and form a bond. Romantic comedy. 96 min. R


Critical Thinking Points on Selected Films

As You Watch

1) How is film, as a genre, different from written genres such as poetry, essays,
novels, and short stories? Are you more likely to “interpret” a film or one of
the other genres? Why?
2) Many literary scholars believe that the book has been replaced by film. Do you
believe this is true? Why or why not? What might have contributed to scholars
making such a statement?
3) How is film more accessible to a general audience? Is this positive or
negative? In what ways?
4) What stereotypes are apparent in this film? In what ways, if any, does this film
attempt to break out of stereotypes?
5) Are there characters and/or scenes in this film that remind you of yourself or
your experiences? Why?

After you’ve watched

1) Which character in the film can you identify with the most? Why? Which
character in the film can you identify with the least? Why?
2) In your opinion, does this film offer a realistic depiction of high school or
college? Why or why not?
3) In what ways is this film a reflection of its time? If the film is set before its
release date, how is the time it was made reflected in the script?
4) What specifically in the film makes this a “coming of age” movie? Could it fall
into another category? Can you create a category for this film?
5) Do you believe this film promotes a positive or negative image of students?
Why?
6) Imagine you were watching this film as your mother or father, and then answer
the following question: Does this film promote a positive or negative image of
students? Why? Have your answers changed from the way you answered
question 5? If so, speculate about the reasons.

Some possibilities for writing

1) Films often cite the original text in the introduction. Is this film based on a
play, novel, or short story? If so, read the original and decide what has been
added and/or deleted in the transition from print to film. Speculate why those
aspects were added and/or deleted. Which did you prefer, the written or film
version? Why?
2) Choose at least two characters from the film and write a page of original
dialogue between them. Extend an existing scene in the film, or create your
own.
3) Read at least five reviews of this film, and write a research paper comparing
and contrasting the reviews.
4) Imagine you were asked to film “A Day in the Life of a Freshman” on your
campus. What elements of your life would you include? If you have access to a
video camera (many university libraries rent them) film your list of scenes.
5) Choose one piece in this collection and write a proposal to a film company
about why this piece would make an excellent film.
6) Watch at least three films from three different decades and write a response
about how each depicts high school and /or college students. In what ways is
that depiction a reflection of the time?

 

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