Cooley High, made in Chicago in 1975 (but taking place in 1964), is often referred to as the “black American Graffiti.” It’s so good, however, that American Graffiti should probably be referred to as the “white Cooley High.” Like George Lucas’ more prestigious period piece, this bittersweet indie comedy looks back with nostalgia on a more innocent time by focusing on a group of teenagers at the end of the school year—and features an equally amazing soundtrack (nearly all Motown) to boot. Best friends Preach (Glynn Turman) and Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) cut class, crash a party, chase women, shoot craps and inadvertently get mixed up with the law after unknowingly going for a joyride in a stolen Cadillac. All the while, their friendship is tested by their divergent ambitions: the literary Preach, a character modeled on screenwriter Eric Monte (who grew up in Cabrini-Green), dreams of becoming a successful writer, which the more athletically-inclined Cochise doesn’t understand.
Directed by Michael Schultz, a former theater director who does wonders with a cast of mostly unknowns, Cooley High also features arguably the most impressive use of locations of any movie ever shot in Chicago, a quality that comes through better than ever on Olive Films’ razor-sharp new Blu-ray. In addition to the now demolished Cabrini-Green housing projects, where the main characters live, Chicagoans should also enjoy spotting the Marina City Towers, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Sedgwick Brown Line Station and Burr-Oak Cemetery. Olive Films’ Blu-ray, which has been released to coincide with the film’s 40th anniversary, can be purchased from the company’s official website.