Some films are fantasies because they take place in
worlds wildly different from our own. Rock 'n' Roll
High School is a fantasy because of a few simple,
key changes that it makes to this world. The captain
of the football team is a dorky reject, the punky
delinquent girl who cuts class is the most desirable,
and the Ramones, with all their Noo Yawk rawness, are the
most popular band around. In fact, Joey Ramone, with
his gangly Bird Bird awkwardness, is a heartthrob.
While you could make the case that the Ramones (Joey,
Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky) are the greatest rock band
ever to blow out an amp, not many consider them sex
symbols. The genius of Rock 'n' Roll High School is
that it puts them in the center of a
burning-down-the-school anarchist comedy modeled on
early rock and roll movies like Blackboard
Jungle and Rock Around The Clock. The plot
is simple enough: Evylyn Togar (Mary Woronov) wants,
as the new principal of Vince Lombardi High, to impose
strict new rules on the rowdy student body. Riff
Randel (PJ Soles) wants to see the Ramones in concert
so she can give them the songs she's written for them, including the title song.
The conflict between the authority figure and the
rebel turns the school into a battleground where no
one is safe from flying food or paper airplanes. In
the grand finale the Ramones show up to play PJ's song
and literally blow the roof off the joint.
Since Rock 'n' Roll High School is a New Concorde production, it bears the
unmistakable stamp of producer Roger Corman, who never met a budget he didn't cut.
Still, the thing that makes Rock 'n' Roll High School
such a classic is the insane energy of the thing.
Between Soles, Woronov, Paul Bartel as music
teacher Mr. McGree, Clint Howard as smooth operator
Eaglebauer, and the Ramones themselves, Rock and
Roll High School becomes a frenzied, cartoonish
lesson in pure mayhem. There are innumerable musical
sequences, including a hilarious day-dream that finds
each Ramone member playing his instrument somewhere in
Riff's bedroom, and highly choreographed gags (an
amazing remote controlled paper airplane sequence
boggles the mind). The semi-climax (there are a few)
finds the entire school rocking out at a Ramones gig
which practically plays at length. There's nothing
worse than a music movie that stiffs you on the tunes.
Rock 'n' Roll High School, however, is more
than generous. The Ramones burn through lots of their
classic songs like "Blitzkrieg Bop", "Sheena is a Punk
Rocker", and "Pinhead". Plenty of other music from
Alice Cooper, Chuck Berry, Velvet Underground, and more
make sure that the soundtrack is rarely quiet. The
joke is that this music is way better than you'd
probably hear playing among the mainstream population
at any high school. Rock 'n' Roll High School
reimagines the teenage experience as if teens were
born with good taste.
Since Joey passed away earlier this year, Rock and
Roll High School has also become a tribute. His
weird acting and bizarre on-stage style always made
him uniquely compelling. In concert he was a god, one foot up on
the monitor, the mic stand firmly in his grip, with
his ever present leather jacket and sunglasses.
Thankfully Rock 'n' Roll High School includes a
lot of Joey, both on and off the stage. It serves as a
reminder of his great energy and the new disc is a nice tribute.
The non-anamorphic widescreen video looks nice. There are occasional bits of dirt and a
few reel changes have tears but nothing that distracts from the presentation. The colors pop,
the image is sharp and, while it doesn't look like it was made yesterday, it looks fine.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is also good. The music jumps out of your
speakers with energy and punch. The dialog is clear and the track is simple, but good.
There are really a boatload of extras. The biggest is a commentary track from director Allan
Arkush, writer Richard Whitley, and producer Michael Finnell. Since the commentary was
recorded a few years back for the laserdisc, however, they don't mention Joey and Paul
Bartel's recent deaths, but overall it is a very entertaining track. The participants crack wise
about Roger Corman's thrifty ways (they point out a joke about New Concorde mere seconds into the movie
that I definitely didn't pick up on my own), as well as the struggle to get the film made. One
of my favorite parts was the discussion of all the bands discussed as possible stars for the
film, including Todd Rundgren, Van Halen, and Cheap Trick. Clearly the film would never
have reached the cult classic status with any of those bands in it. The whole joke seems to
be that these four mooks from Queens would be heartthrobs in the heartland. With
Diamond Dave at the mic the movie wouldn't have been effective at all.
There's also a short interview with Roger Corman conducted by Leonard Maltin (he loves
appearing on DVDs!) which is a great chance to see this spendthrift in action. He's loathe
to insult one of his own films and actually tries to say that the terrible 1990 sequel, Rock 'n' Roll High School
Forever, which starred Corey Feldman (!), is a good movie.
Another big feature is a selection of additional Ramones material. One extra that's not too
useful is an isolated version of the Ramones concert from the film. More interesting,
however, is a selection of audio only outtakes from the staged show. The band played live but
studio versions of the songs were used in the final sound mix. These are the live cuts and the have that
Ramones live energy. They aren't recorded too well and sound kind of quiet, but they're a
great addition to this terrific disc.
Bios, radio ads, and trailers for Rock 'n' Roll High School as well as other New
Concorde productions like Eat My Dust! are also included. An intro from director Arkush, originally written for the laserdisc, is also included along with an updated dedication to Joey Ramone.
Additionally, the booklet is filled with interviews with the cast and crew. Overall, the set of extras is really impressive.
There is no question: Rock 'n' Roll High School is a great movie. It has camp appeal, great music, attitude, and can be watched over and over. New Concorde's DVD really does it justice.