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Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was released in theaters on Aug. 13, 1982, remains one of the most realistic teen movies of the ’80s.
That’s largely because the film’s source material was based on a true-to-life book written by Cameron Crowe, a journalist who had spent much of the ’70s writing about and interviewing artists such as Led Zeppelin, the Eagles and Steely Dan for Rolling Stone. When Crowe was 22, however, he and his publisher had an idea for a book: The writer would find out what it was really like to be a kid by going undercover at a high school.
“I had attended Ridgemont Senior High in Redondo Beach, California, for a summer session seven years earlier, and those eight weeks had been sublime and forbidden days, even if it did mean going to a school in the summer,” Crowe wrote in the introduction to the eventual book, also called Fast Times at Ridgemont High. “I normally attended a rather strict Catholic school, and there were many of us who believed that all our problems would be solved, all our dreams within reach if we just went to Ridgemont public high school.”
Crowe targeted the 1979-1980 school year and proposed the idea to Ridgemont Senior High’s principal, Dr. William Gray. “I wanted to attend classes at Ridgemont and remain an inconspicuous presence for the full length of the school year,” Crowe wrote. “The object, I told him, was to write a book about real, contemporary life in high school.” Convincing Dr. Gray to go along with his scheme was made easier after Crowe mentioned he had just interviewed “nice guy” Kris Kristofferson.
The resulting book focused on both the day-to-day mundanity and the drama, which was entirely the point. “It was my intention to write of the entire business–from academic competition to the sexual blunders–of teenage adulthood,” Crowe said in the book’s intro.
The movie preserved all of this. Framed by a school year, the…