Cooley High: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

In 1964 on Chicago's Near-North Side, the lives of four carefree high school seniors and best friends, including an aspiring playwright and an all-city basketball champion, takes a tragic turn.

January 5, 2023 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Preach (Glynn Thurman) and Cochise (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs) are of a very different cloth, but the two are still the best of friends. Preach has a more serious approach to things, and likes to write, whereas Cochise loves to have a good time, and is going to college on a basketball scholarship. The two attend Cooley High, where they are seniors looking for more of a good time than hitting the books. They both have dreams about leaving their less than prosperous neighborhoods behind, but also wonder how they can make the most of the time they have there. While they were known for cutting class, causing mischief, and pulling pranks, the two never really wandered into serious trouble, until they went on a joy ride that changed things forever. Faced with an even more problematic present, will the friends be able to forge ahead and establish a future for themselves?

When the case for a movie claims that the film is “the black American Graffiti,” of course expectations are raised to a high level. While the nostalgia level is high in this movie, the complete package doesn’t come close to the level American Graffiti reaches. That’s not to say the movie is bad, because that’s not true. But after reading the blurb on the package, I expected more than the film delivered. The movie has very funny moments, along with some well crafted dramatic sequences. I wouldn’t call the movie a part of either genre, although the comedy outnumbers the drama. As with most nostalgic movies, Cooley High is best appreciated by those who lived during or are interested in that time period, as the film has the potential to appear very dated to those seeing it for the first time. I recommend the movie to those seeking a nostalgic look back, but a rental is in order, since the disc just doesn’t deliver.

If you think the events in this movie seem like something right out of the era, you’re right. Writer Eric Monte based most of the film on events he experienced or saw happen during his tenure at Cooley High, which is a real Chicago school, by the way. The director, Michael Schultz, has a few movies under his belt, but none of them registered as true hits. Schultz helmed such cult classics as Scavenger Hunt, Disorderlies, and Car Wash. While the names in Cooley High don’t belong to super famous actors, they do belong to actors who gave solid performances here. Glynn Thurman (Deep Cover, The Inkwell) and Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs (The Jacksons: An American Dream) play the leading roles with energy, giving the movie it’s character backbone. The supporting cast includes Cynthia Davis, Corin Rogers, and Maurice Leon Havis. The actor who most of you will recognize is Garrett Morris, of Saturday Night Live fame. Fans of Morris should also check out Motorama and The Stuff, two excellent cult classics.

Video: How does it look?

We’ve got good news and not so good news when it comes to the visuals of the film. First of all, we finally get a true 1.85:1 AVC HD encode with this one. The previously released DVD seemed to be an open matte transfer that, well, didn’t look too impressive. Criterion worked with the filmmakers to create a new 4K scan and the results are certainly better than what they were. That being said, it’s still lacking a bit. There’s still some grain on the print, detail isn’t quite up to par with what I thought it’d be and so forth. It’s an improvement, to be sure, and I don’t blame Criterion – they’ve set the bar so consistently high that I have to imagine once they put something out – it’s the best it could look.

Audio: How does it sound?

The original mono track is used for audio, so expect an average audio experience. For mono, this is a great track, no hiss and no separation issues at all. The soundtrack is classic Motown tunes, and they sound clear and crisp. Dialogue comes across well also, you can’t ask for a better sounding mono track than this.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Remembering Cooley High – A new interview with director Michael Schultz details how the project came to be, some of the ins and outs of the shoot and an overall look back at the film.
  • The Cooley High Story – Eagle-eyed viewers might recognize this from TCM that aired this special back in 2017. It’s a bit redundant if you’ve watched the above feature, but has a good ensemble that recount the film and its long-lasting success.
  • Academy Tribute – A panel which consists of Michael Schultz, Gloria Schultz, actors Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs Garrett Morris, Jackie Taylor, and other cast members discuss the film in Los Angeles in 2019. It’s hosted by Robert Townsend.
  • Illustrated Booklet – The obligatory booklet which features Craigh Barboza’s essay “Young, Gifted, and Black” as well as technical credits.

The Bottom Line

This is an interesting choice for Criterion. It’s a great film, but certainly not for everyone. Criterion’s work on the transfer is impressive, but I still found it lacking. The new supplements are welcome, so for anyone who’s been waiting for the definitive version of this on disc – here ya go.

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