If you look along the shelf of ‘American performing arts student coming-of-age movie’ high school yearbooks, back through time beyond the tans and tooth veneers of Glee and High School Musical, beyond the mullets and leg warmers of Fame, you’ll come eventually to a half-forgotten, suitably geeky, split-frame spectacled 70s gem called Jeremy.
It’s one of those hard-to-get-hold-of ‘region 1 only’ DVD releases but worth seeking out in segmented form on a popular video sharing site. Set during the Sophomore year of budding cellist Jeremy Jones (Robby Benson) at the New York High School of Music and Art, the film manages to successfully capture the frequently painful shyness and innocence associated with finding and losing your first love. Some modern cynical audiences, fed on a diet of third rate, tenth grade wise-ass Jock achievers versus Billy No-Mates nerds movies, might start to wonder when nice guy Jeremy is going to switch from introspective love-struck lonely boy to gun-toting, trenchcoat-wearing Mr. Misunderstood and start decorating the college walls with the blood of virgins when the girl of his dreams leaves him, but it’s just not that kind of movie. Indeed its very naivety is the reason why it succeeds.
Its simple, honest exploration of the first budding of teenage love and sex may be just too simple for some, but its sheer authenticity cannot be matched by any of those subsequent semi-exploitative ‘raggy dolls have feelings too’ high school song-fests. Indeed Benson and his debuting co-star Glynnis O’Connor as dance student Susan Rollins are said to have begun a relationship as a result of working together on Jeremy, which is entirely believable; their love scenes give off enough teenage hormones to have you sloping home, painting your bedroom walls black, staring at yourself in the mirror covered in spot treatment for hours on end and blaming your parents for everything. Fans of Benson and O’Connor can catch them sucking gums yet again in Ode to Billy Joe (Max Baer Jr. 1976) another teen love story (with a twist – Benson’s Billy Joe turns out to be gay) and a film that if anything is even harder to get hold of than this one.
Jeremy‘s mix of a script of bashful, intimate small talk, almost exclusively hand-held 16mm camerawork, jumpy editing and use of natural lighting leads one to regard the film as the awkward, gangly, inadvertent inspiration for those twin lo-fi docu-realist enfants terribles Mumblecore and Dogme. The look is pure early 70s; lots of lens flares during lingering long shot walks in Central Park, sugar-and-spice girls with centre partings who look like they use Fairy Liquid for shampoo, puppy-dogs’-tails boys with way too much hair for their own good and chess games on rainy afternoons that function as a form of awkward foreplay. Gee, everyone’s so intelligent and nice and freckled-nosed American you begin to think they might all just break out into a chorus of ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ at any moment before settling down to watch Big Blue Marble.
For all its stylistic blueprint this isn’t some studied piece of arthouse procrastination, it’s just a genuinely low budget, honestly roughly cut, uncomplicated, unassuming and unashamedly small picture that is both about and for those serious, cerebral ‘silence, genius at work’ adolescents out there who might know how to fathom the intricacies of a classical piece for cello but can’t quite figure out how to uncouple a girl’s bra strap. It’s arguably insubstantial but if you can recall fighting back the self-consciousness of youth to win someone’s heart Jeremy will strike chords. The renowned behavioural scientist
Prof. Brian G. Gilmartin (no, me either), exponent of the theory of ‘love-shyness’, studied Jeremy as part of his research and claims that it has the distinction of being the most watched film by love-shy men. So a date movie it probably ain’t. A good movie, however, it certainly is.