Fraternity houses, toga parties and beer kegs filled with Bud Light. Rude bodybuilding guys, size zero models, and the weird “nerd” who turns into a “football” player very quickly. A general glimpse of America’s “college” can perhaps be seen with a few budding janitors, several overly encouraging professors, and the odd, endearing musical pariah. But overall, the college experience is sold to us through movies like bad neighbors and Perfect with sanitized pleasure, unattainable bodily goals and spontaneous a cappella.
Travel the 4,000 miles from Illinois sororities to the cracked walls of Oak House and you’ll witness a very different picture of student life. Gone are the Greek badges, instant college romances and effervescent sports coaches. In its place stand lime green walls, cheap smelly pints and a strange signet ring. We all know the stereotypical American uni from Seth Rogan movie after Seth Rogan movie. How then is the British experience captured in the film? The answer is in surprisingly minimal terms.
Our university experience often takes the form of the fetishized grandeur of Oxbridge. Scenes like in The theory of everything seem to buy into this lens of famous aristocracy and history. Long, stately staircases and formal dining seem to constitute a vision of college life that revolves around tradition and wealth.
Gaining notoriety for his repugnant displays of excess and violence, The club riots envisions a modern Oxford experience laced with the heritage of famous exclusive societies like the Bullingdon club. Wealthy snobs gather to revel in the poverty of others. Not a great look, is it? As a result, murder, intrigue, and political scandal seem to become the natural byproducts of this college experience. I think while it’s fair to say that Manchester has had its fair share of scandals and controversies, very few of them have actually stemmed from the students themselves. Far from misbehaving students, we seem to have misbehaving bureaucrats.
What about Tom Vaughan’s 2006 hit? Starter For 10? Set in the 1980s, it follows Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) in his first year at the University of Bristol. Surrounded by partying students, drooling political activists and big-city appeal, this iconic rom-com captures more of an authentic college experience than Oxbridge admirers. McAvoy’s constant romantic failures and stuttering ways are as endearing as they are clichéd. And then, of course, the film’s preoccupation with University Challenge. What a strange thing to focus on. Who in their right mind, you ask, would invest all their extra time in University Challenge? And yet Manchester have been a historic powerhouse in the competition, winning it more times than any other university. So the next time you’re looking for something to do, don’t be so quick to dismiss your general knowledge. Unlike baggy clothes and perpetual drums and bass, it’s perhaps more “Manchester” than expected.
And now, of course, we turn to Fresh meat, the TV show we all watched during freshman week to get a feel for the city. For many, this has become the epitome of the British university. Fucking the wrong roommate, slight crush on your poetry teacher? Fresh meat seems to answer the question “What if The Inbetweeners came to college?” “. Of course, it takes a bit of creative license. I can’t say I’ve ever had a roommate who used a hair dryer to cook his chicken. But the consensus among most fans seems to be that this is how the average British student lives. Full of disastrous parties and sleazy student life, perhaps its main inaccuracy is the number of Etonians parading through the streets of Mancunian. A chic roommate here and there is not quite the same. Did you have a roommate you had never seen before? Fresh meat is certainly a vision less glamorous than anything else.
Although not about university students per se, Michael Winterbottom’s iconic assessment of Manchester’s musical culture, 24 hour party people, is a student film as important as any film. Tracing the rise, then fall, of bands like Joy Division and the Happy Mondays, the film is a nostalgic look at Manchester’s biggest venue, the Hacienda. Citing the emergence of these bands as a pivotal moment in music history, the film documents producer Tony Wilson’s role in shaping the Manchester culture we all know. Featuring a host of unmissable British actors, this film will have you longing for the days when Factory was not just a stinky student club, but rather was the home of pioneering producers and musical artists. Granted, drug use was as rampant as it is now, perhaps the only flash of continuity since the days of Bez and Shaun Ryder. And above all, the importance of the music remained. At no other university will you find such a clear musical identity. Whether it’s budding DJs in your basement or new stars emerging from independent cafes in Withington, 24 hour party people speaks more to a universal student experience in Manchester than any other film. If you are a movie buff who loves their music, this movie is definitely for you.
Many more British films deal with graduation, the ultimate ‘coming of age’ moment. This often happens as part of a larger narrative, with only temporary attention given to their departure. The majestic scenes of chariots of fire come to mind. To be honest, that might be a little too much for us Mancunians, not to mention that we probably wouldn’t find ourselves sprinting around 13and course of the century on our last day. More likely staggering at Nest’s house.
What do you do after graduating? It’s strange to end up returning to American cinema. monster university delivers a dramatic and gritty portrait of entering the working world (scaring the kids) while raising pertinent questions about acceptance and identity as we leave student life behind.
However, as one of the most iconic romantic comedies to date, The graduation requires special mention. Are you feeling a bit aimless as graduation draws ever closer? Have you nurtured any particular talents here, or are you rather thrown, diploma in hand, into the big world? While for many falling in love with a family friend’s mother may not be the graduation dream, this beautiful film, scored by Simon and Garfunkel, will leave you on a dizzying note of hope. as you get on a bus still wearing an unhappy marriage dress up and head off to the future. Perhaps at the cost of cynical realism, we all hope for a happy ending like this. Whether that happens is quite another matter.