Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The schools are alive...

...with the sound of music. Or so it would appear. I've been listening to the radio on and off for most of the day, and the biggest topic of conversation (apart from the credit crunch, that is) seems to be Disney's High School Musical. Now, you'll have to forgive my ignorance, as I have never seen the TV movies, never bought the exercise books or other tie-in gew-gaws, nor have I spent hours in the pouring rain in central London hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars of the latest HSM offering. I think it's probably something to do with my being in the wrong age group. I have resisted the temptation to paste any picture in here that might even be remotely connected with the film. Disney (TM) have eyes everywhere, and if they can threaten to sue educational establishments for daring to use the original Disney names for the seven dwarfs in school pantos, then I'd probably be fair game.

So, why all this interest in high school musicals? No, what I really want to know is, why all this interest in high schools, full stop? Over the years I have watched a good many films, most of them American. A huge proportion of them seem to be about, to refer to, or are set in, a high school. We all know what American high schools look like, don't we? A big, well-maintained building (maybe ultra-modern, maybe faux Victorian); wide, spacious corridors with floors buffed so hard you could eat dinner off them; row after row of pristine lockers; and classrooms that look clean and well-ordered.

Then there's the cast. There's usually at least one of the following; super-cool guy who knows exactly what to wear and what to say; lunkhead football/baseball player; uncool, geeky boy who gets pushed around by aforesaid lunkhead; cool girl fancied by all the boys and worshipped by the girls; and Valley Girl.

Valley Girl is a strange phenomenon. She is incapable of using the word "said". Instead, she uses similes. "I was like 'wow!' and he was like, 'what do ya say?' and my dad was like 'no way!'" You get the picture. In the same way she cannot use a short sentence when a long one will do. "It was hot today" becomes "It was kind of like hot today". And this mode of speech is spreading to the UK. I blame all the high school movies.

In an effort to find out just how many high school movies there have been, I trawled the internet. The first site I found was "Fifty Best High School Movies". So there must be a few more than that. But astonishingly, there were three British films in the list; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Gregory's Girl, and To Sir with Love. The thing is, none of these have that "best days of your lives", feel good, anything's possible attitude that seems to pervade most American high school movies. Let's look at what we've got, apart from the three aforementioned:

Tom Brown's Schooldays - small defenceless boy brutalised by school bully.
If - psychopathic scholars go on a shooting spree and slaughter the staff.
Billy Elliot - northern boy gets a hard time for daring to enjoy dancing.
St. Trinians - vicious and/or sexually provocative girls presided over by criminal staff and a spiv.
Grange Hill - drugs, knives, violence and aggression in an inner city school (okay, so it's not a film!)

It doesn't make very good reading, does it? Perhaps the high school genre never took off here because there is no distinct and recognisable image of a UK secondary school. I suppose that's why our home-grown directors have left schools alone and instead stuck to what they know; gangster movies set in the East End or Essex, tales of drug-dealing and benefit fraud on some sink estate, and middle-class people living in easily recognisable English places (usually overlooking Tower Bridge) having relationships with other middle-class people, with a couple of random American stars thrown in so it may just about appeal to the US market.

Oh, to hell with it. I'm off to see High School Musical.

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