30 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School: 30th Anniversary Special Edition (Shout! Factory)

If Rock ‘n’ Roll High School isn’t the greatest rock and rebellion film of all time, it is certainly in the running, a pure, cheerfully juvenile blast of blitzkrieg guitar rock, Looney Tunes sight gags, teenage hormones and rebellion against authority because it’s there. They aren’t exactly rebels without a cause, it’s just that their cause is music and fun and the celebration of power punk rockers The Ramones, who in this universe play the rock anthems of the day. At the risk of dating myself, when I discovered the film playing in heavy rotation on HBO, I was in the high school that alternative music culture forgot and had no idea who the Ramones were (or even what punk music really was) but responded to the four-square rock anthems in three chords and double time the way I responded to Chuck Berry: the essence of the rock and roll. That’s what director Allan Arkush responded to as well. Various stories tell of producer Roger Corman’s bright idea to do a “Disco High School” movie (Arkush talked him out of that one) and of his preference to hire Cheap Trick as the featured band (too expensive, it turned out). And who knows, the stories may be true, or just more Corman musings that were never destined to actually go anywhere but make for great copy. What is definitely true is that Arkush wanted to try his hand at a rock and roll movie, an American A Hard Day’s Night with a B-movie budget, a California culture setting and an anything goes comic sensibility. It turned out that the Ramones were on the same page.

Do ya wanna dance? Riff and the Ramones rock the halls

Thirty years later, the Ramones are part of my playlist and the film remains as energetic, endearing and fun as ever, not so much a dated artifact from my g-g-g-generation as a timeless slice of teenage kicks and a cartoon of youthquake rebellion against the killjoys of authority. While the seminal New York power punk band provides the beat, P.J. Soles powers the film as Riff Randell, rock and roller and aspiring songwriter who just wants to spread the gospel of rock music. Mary Woronov is her arch nemesis Miss Togar, the new high school principal whose controlling personality and authoritarian streak makes Nurse Ratched look soft and sweet. Where Soles literally dances her way through the film, swinging and swaying done the halls and barely able to keep still in class, Woronov is a drill sergeant in a skirt and a pinched expression who sends her toadying team of storm trooper hall monitors (imagine Jonah Hill and Seth Rogan in these roles) to tell on anyone who dares have any fun under her watch.

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