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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Cooley High
Cooley High
MGM // PG // May 1, 2001
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted March 10, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
A number of important films about various uniquely African-American experiences have recently found their way to DVD, from the classic race drama In the Heat of the Night to the blaxploitation dynamite of Foxy Brown to Criterion's posh treatment of Spike Lee's complex modern urban character study Do the Right Thing. With all of these big name releases it would be easy to overlook MGM's quiet issuance of Cooley High (1975), a fondly remembered release from low-budget grindhouse American International. Cooley High has been dubbed, somewhat condescendingly, the black American Graffiti, due to its nostalgic atmosphere (it is set in the mid-60's) and young cast. The film follows a group of Chicago high school students, particularly Preach (Glynn Turman) and Cochise (Lawerence-Hilton Jacobs), during a raucous stretch of class ditching, party crashing, and general havoc wreaking. Even though the Chicago areas the characters inhabit are rough there is a sweetness and innocence that pervades the movie. Even when the tone turns unexpectedly tragic near the end there is a realness to the leads that saves the film from becoming maudlin or overly sentimental.

At times, however, the film seems drawn too broadly: Preach is a poet and Cochise a star basketball player, but we never really see either doing what they're best at. And a typical "getting to know you" sequence between Preach and the object of his affection is filmed in a cheesy music video style that is totally vague and gives the viewer no idea why these characters are getting together. Overall, the film is about fifteen minutes too long and it drags a bit near the end.

For its few faults, however, Cooley High is an entertaining film. The actors are all fine (Jacobs reigns in his Welcome Back, Kotter jive and Turman walks the line between obnoxious and fragile) and the script is engaging. Director Michael Schultz (whose notably long list of credits includes another 70's classic Car Wash, 80's kung-fu hybrid The Last Dragon, and hip-hop classic Krush Groove) has the right approach to this material: Fast and loose, funny, but still real.

VIDEO:
While the image itself looks pretty good, MGM has only included a full-frame version. There is no obvious panning or scanning and the original film was not a widescreen epic, but there is still no reason to limit the choices of the viewers by eliminating the original aspect ratio. The colors are muted but overall the picture is better than VHS releases.

AUDIO:
The audio is 2.0 and sounds fine. The original sound elements contain a number of tell-tale signs of low budget equipment, but the soundtrack of Motown classics makes up for many shortcomings. A French soundtrack is also available, as are English and French subtitles.

EXTRAS:
There are no extras.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
While it may last a little too long and a few scenes don't play exactly right, Cooley High is a memorable film. The characters are well drawn and the situations are engaging. Even though the treatment it's received from MGM is typically lackluster, Cooley High still deserves to be seen.

Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.

E-mail Gil at [email protected]
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