Cooley High (Blu-ray)

Often referred to as the “black American Graffiti,” Cooley High certainly has a similar style to the George Lucas classic, avoiding a linear narrative in favor of moving from vignette to vignette, with help from an unforgettable Motown soundtrack. Both films explore the optimism that comes with being a teenager, but Cooley High looks at it from the black perspective.

Set in 1964, Cooley High follows two high school buddies who spend their days trying to avoid going to school and chasing girls. While Preach (Glynn Turman) hopes to go to Hollywood and become a writer, Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) hopes to get a basketball scholarship to college. Though surrounded by poverty—the dilapidated buildings, garbage strewn streets and single mothers forced to work multiple jobs to support them—the two boys hold on to their dreams and approach every day with the exuberance of youth. That is not to say that Cooley High deals in fantasy.

Director Michael Schultz and screenwriter Eric Monte—the latter of whom grew up in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green housing project—make it very clear just how dismal the characters surroundings are. The film opens with a panoramic shot of the city’s gorgeous lakefront, gradually bringing the very different surroundings of the housing project into focus. The filmmakers don’t whitewash the by portraying them as angels. They commit petty crimes, yet aren’t complete outlaws. In a nod to just how hard their single mothers work, Preach escapes a whipping from his mother (for having a naked girl in his bedroom!) because she falls asleep at the table before the punishment can be carried out. It’s a tough existence, but everyone is doing the best they can to get by.

A scene in which Preach and Cochise take a joyride in a stolen car and are chased by police emphasizes the thin line between a life of accomplishment and a life in prison for kids growing up in improvised neighborhoods. While Cooley High shows how it’s very easy for tragedy to have the last word in these kids’ lives, in the end. One characters drive to succeed was too big to be denied.

The script is a bit thin, in that the characters outside of Preach and Cochise are very thin—the fat girl at the party exists solely for the purpose to be seen stuffing food in her mouth at a party, and the boys main girlfriends do little more than stand around in 1964 shift dresses and fake-fur coats. Despite these issues, Cooley High is an entertaining film and serves as an interesting window into the lives of a group of black youths. Glyn Turman and Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs are good actors and completely believable in their roles.

Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Olive Films 1080p presentation offers surprisingly rich colors throughout, with some deep reds and greens. There’s some nice textures and a bit of depth apparent. While the image isn’t reference quality—close up details can be slightly blurry at times—the presentation is a major improvement over previous DVD releases and rather proficient.

Olive’s DTS-HD Master 2.0 audio isn’t particularly special, but it does a fine job with the dialogue and the Motown soundtrack that includes songs by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations and more.

There are no subtitles available.

There are no extras included.

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