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Saturday, August 22, 2015

'Seventeen' DVD: Doc.on High School Students Banned on PBS

The recent Icarus Films DVD release of the highly controversial 1982 documentary "Seventeen" provides a chance to see the reasons for all the fuss, which includes PBS opting to not broadcast it, regarding this film. This DVD also rounds out the Icarus releases of the six films in the Muncie, Indiana centric Middletown documentary series. This series looks at various aspects, including a mayoral campaign and the daily life of a fundamentalist family, of that communuty. The subject in "Seventeen," which won the Grand Jury Prize in the Documentary category at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival,  is high school seniors leading their daily lives and considering the future.

The following YouTube clip of a scene from "Seventeen" nicely represents the themes of the film.


The audience meets the subjects during a very raucous home economics class over which a grandmotherly teacher maintains a surprisingly high degree of control. The highly amusing dialog includes discussing which Fs that central character Lynn and her best friend, who can be considered the Laverne and Shirley of Southside High School, deserve. This segment includes a hilariously botched cooking project.

The obliviousness of said teacher regarding a teen pregnancy and a lighthearted conversation with the baby daddy likely is one factor behind PBS bowing to Congressional pressure during the Jesse Helms era by cancelling a planned broadcast of the film. Other cited reasons are the interracial romance between Lynn and a black boy, scenes of pot smoking, foul language, and several other depictions of the lives of working (and higher) class high school seniors.

Additional subversive elements include challenging the value of the lessons taught in school and the risks associated with recent high school graduates joining the military to achieve financial stability.

Aspects of the inter-racial relationship around which much of "Seventeen" focuses includes the reactions of the peers of the couple, scary-level threats, and violence and entertaining discourse regarding the differences between a black boy who dates a white girl and a white girl who dates a black boy.

On a larger level, "Seventeen" realistically depicts the hearts and minds of young adults who share struggle with the transition to that stage in their lives.

The extra is an eight-page booklet that discusses the film and its participants, the aforementioned controversy, and glimpses of the post-film lives of the subjects.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Seventeen" is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.