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Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979).

January 18, 2008

The Scoop:
The Ramones were at their creative peak for only a few years short years in the mid- to late-’70s before commencing a quick slide into self-parody and irrelevance in the ’80s. But in that short time, their impact was almost incalculable. They practically invented the American strain of punk rock (a few predecessors notwithstanding) by stripping away the 20 years’ worth of artifice and mannerisms that had accumulated around rock music and returning it to its simple 1950s rebel roots, albeit with more threatening modern undertones. In short, by getting back to basics they launched a revolution.

And, in an odd way, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” is the best record of that revolution.

The film, one of scholckmeister producer Roger Corman’s best, distills the best parts of formulaic 1950s rock ‘n’ roll youth movies into a fun, high energy B-movie classic. Part of that energy comes from the Ramones, whose best songs blanket the soundtrack. But part of it also comes from the charming performance of P.J. Soles, who plays Riff Randell, the die-hard fan who will do anything to attend the upcoming Ramones concert and meet her idols. Also along for the ride are Clint Howard (at his best as the teenage svengali Eaglebauer, absolutely a character for the ages), Vincent Van Patten and B-movie stalwarts Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov and Dick Miller.

So much about rebellious, youth-oriented rock ‘n’ roll is ephemeral — even the greatest bands shine bright for only a short time before they become routine and establishmentarian. This film captures that brief moment in the Ramones’ career perfectly.

Best Line:
“Things sure have changed since we got kicked out of high school.”

Side Note:
The Ramones got the part only after a number of other acts turned it down, including Devo, Van Halen, Cheap Trick and Todd Rundgren.

Another Side Note:
Uncredited contributions abound in this movie. Director Allan Arkush got unbilled assistance from both Joe (“Gremlins”) Dante and Jerry (“Airplane!”) Zucker. Meanwhile, among the rockin’ high school kids are Germs lead singer Darby Crash and legendary stunt performers Debbie Evans and Jack Gill.

Companion Viewing:
“Rock Around the Clock” (1956) and “Grease” (1978).


Take a Look:
The trailer:

The Ramones’ video for the theme song:

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