Initially, School Daze seems to be a film based on containment. The setting is, for the most part, restricted to the college campus. The other striking element of the film is that the plot is contained to just a single weekend. The actual events and their implications, however, transcend the temporal constraints that they are seemingly confined to.
Notions of temporality are reaffirmed by the film’s opening. School Daze begins with a three-minute montage featuring a series of historical images portraying landmark moments and figures from black history. Lee begins with connections to a wide spectrum of time, a wealth of historical moments. However, he quickly brings the viewer back into the present moment with a pan of the Mission College pennant and signifier that today is Friday. Part of this naming of the day is to bring the viewer out of the lengthy journey they just went on by way of the montage, but also to give an everyday, timelessness to the events about to take place. This isn’t Friday, April 12th, this is any given Friday. The pairing here plays on the consistency of the problems that resonant from the montage, as they transcend the constraints of time, remaining problematic today.
After this initial grounding, we see a quick transition to a consideration of apartheid through Dap’s speech. School Daze makes these transitions throughout the film, pushing out of the restrictive setup of the film to include commentary about historical moments and movements. It’s striking that moments of transitions are typically marked by the pan of the Mission College pennant. Pennants typically serve as a symbol of an institution, perhaps something rooted in a deep history. The pennants act as a trigger that forces viewers to consider the historical context. A college campus is the perfect place to make these connections as the pennants often evoke a sense of tradition and dependence on history.
Part of what makes Lee able to reference various historical moments in just the span of one weekend (and make it work!) is his use of indirect symbols and objects that evoke the sentiments of these historical events, such as the pennant. In the example below, note the looming bell featured behind Dap. While this bell functions as the vehicle to “wake up” the campus, it also evokes various other sentiments (Liberty bell, religion, etc.). The use of symbols allows viewers to make their own connections amongst the myriad historical contexts explored, giving the film even more ability to stretch beyond its time constraints, both literally and within the film’s plot.
This article comments on Lee’s manipulation of the historical context of the film and considers the role of School Daze in Lee’s ability to assert himself as a well-diversified filmmaker. By considering Lee’s legacy there’s apparent historicization happening, too. Do we consider School Daze a defining film for Lee? What’s at stake in this inherent historicization of a current filmmaker?