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Keep on Matriculating: One of the Stanford students profiled in 'Now and Then' celebrates with cheerleaders on graduation day.

School Daze II

Documentary 'Now and Then' looks at Stanford University 'Frosh' four years later

By Richard von Busack

THE JOKE GOES that college will give you a rich, full life--except in the senses of the words meaning "to have lots of money" and "to have enough to eat." In Now and Then, directors Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine follow up their documentary Frosh, concentrating on the less measurable aspects of going to college--the part of the experience that's most valuable, the part to which the diploma is almost secondary. Now and Then shows what became of the young Stanford students profiled in Frosh. At times, it's an implicit critique of the way some students think, recording their intolerance. That's surprising, because in fictional films about college, it's always the administration that's causing repression. In Now and Then, however, we see the rules of social conduct and how they're wielded, especially in the conformist pressure brought to bear on a pair of close male friends suspected of being gay.

This sequel, easily more hopeful that the original, shows that the viewer can be just as prone to snap judgments as any of these students. For example, Debbie Kahn seemed the most like a stereotypical Stanford girl in the first film. She was a blonde sorority sister who was careful not to show too much personality in public. In a snippet from her freshman year, we observe Debbie lazing around an enormous dormitory lounge with a grand piano in it. She's asking her pal Sam--far across the room, prostrate on his own sofa--if he ever feels "at a loss at school, being a white male?" It looks exactly like a New Yorker cartoon. But in Now and Then, Debbie quits the sorority and becomes a feminist-studies major. Sam himself, who was terribly ill at ease in Frosh, is seemingly at loose ends still as Now and Then begins, interning as a towel washer for the Stanford basketball team. By the end, he's become what they used to call a BMOC--a big man on campus, a president of his frat.

Cheng Song, so serious in his efforts to become an investment banker, shows us the uncertainties that a hard-driving student faces. We see where Song came from, too, as the son of the proprietor of a (the only?) Chinese restaurant in Centerville, Ohio. The filmmakers also follow the lives of two African American women: Monique Reese, a girl from an impoverished background, and Brandi Shipp, who came from a well-off family. Monique chafes the most at the pressure of being a minority on campus, complaining about "all those stupid white people who think there's something good about being poor." By the end, she's become the only undergraduate at Stanford teaching a four-unit course.

Is it that Geller and Goldfine picked an especially interesting bunch of students? Or is it that any group of students so candidly observed would display their intelligence, so downplayed at their parties and in their conversations? So much of what we hear about colleges is lamentable: culture wars blasting away at the curriculum; budgetary woes crippling the California university and state college system; ruinously high tuitions putting private schools out of reach. Most depressing of all is the plight of students going in dumb and coming out dumber from the effects of television, sports and four years of having their prejudices reinforced by cautious teaching. Now and Then offers positive news about universities. While never blind to the angry, tedious aspects of student life, the film observes everything good about going to college.

'Now and Then' (Unrated), a documentary by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose and the Aquarius in Palo Alto.

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From the September 30-October 6, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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