Hollywood often tries to capture the “real” high school experience but typically fails significantly, sacrificing authenticity for a set of A-List actors and storybook versions of a contemporary high school setting.
Kirby Dick challenges these conventions with Chain Camera, a provocative documentary that illuminates the high school experience with intimacy and ingenuity. Throughout the 1999-2000 school year, students of John Marshall High School filmed their lives both on campus and off. Each student was given a week to express themselves with no limitations.
What unfolds from this chain of high school life portrayals is a stunning portrait of 16 students, whose lives are wrapped around themes of sexuality, substance abuse, race, violence and ultimately the search for identity and a place in the world.
The students that the director chose to profile are intriguing and provide diversity and personality at every moment.
Our first subject is an Asian girl who once was disgusted by her looks, but now desires to earn money by becoming a stripper. Another is an Armenian girl who battles with her mother’s wishes for her to date someone in her race. One of the most moving students however, is a recovering drug user who now belongs to a variety of activist organizations.
Many of the profiles also deal with sexuality, a topic that is anything but taboo in adolescence. A high school senior lets the audience view her open lesbian relationship with no shame or apprehension. The experience is very personal and touching.
As we watch a young gay Latino disclose a friend’s HIV status, the moment is truly captivating. Undoubtedly, each segment has a distinct style, rich with personality and innocence.
Located two miles from Hollywood, John Marshall High School has long been the setting of major television and film productions, such as “Grease” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Those productions, however are an adult’s interpretation of teen life. Chain Camera captures a misunderstood generation and gives them a voice.