Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Rock n' Roll High School

New World Pictures, 1979
Starring PJ Soles, Vince Van Patten, Clint Howard, and Dey Young
Directed by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante (uncredited)
Music and Lyrics by various

Get Crazy was far from Arkush's first brush with rock n' roll insanity. Infamous low-budget producer Roger Corman wanted to make a rebellious teen flick like the ones he did in the early and mid-60's and fill it with current music. Arkush initially wanted Todd Rundgren or Cheap Trick, but they were unavailable. He and Dante hit on using popular punk rock group The Ramones when one of the actors was a fan and suggested them. How does this cross between 60's teen rebellion and the Ramones' punk sensibilities look nowadays? Let's begin at Vince Lombardi High School in South Los Angeles, where the students are just about to begin their school day, and find out...

The Story: Riff Rendell (Soles) is the biggest fan of the Ramones in LA, but Principal Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov) thinks rock is destructive to young minds and distracts them from learning. Riff has a song, "Rock n' Roll High School," she wants to give to Ramones leader Joey Ramone (himself) and waits in line for three days to do it. Incensed over Riff cutting class, Togar takes her ticket to their big concert away. Riff and her quieter best friend Kate (Young) win tickets to the concert on a radio contest. Togar has other ways of making her students conform...but Riff and the Ramones take over the school, oust the teachers, and decide once and for all to show Togar and their parents that a little harmful fun never killed anyone.

The Song and Dance: Wow, that was wild. If you're a fan of the Ramones or hard rock of the 60's and 70's, you'll be in heaven with the terrific soundtrack. Clint Howard is having the most fun as Eaglebauer, the school's geeky matchmaker who is so in demand, he has an office in the boys' bathroom complete with secretary. Woronov revels in her role as the strictest principal in Southern California, loudly demanding the students conform to her dated and slightly corny ideology. The low-budget production means we get the use of authentic South LA locations, including two real area high schools and the actual demolition of one for the big explosion in the finale.

Favorite Number: We first hear the title number when Riff plays it for her gym class after Togar calls the teacher away. The spirited number turns a routine gym work-out into something a lot more sexy and energetic! "Smokin' In the Boys' Room" introduces us to Eaglebauer and the lines of boys waiting to get his romantic advice in the hazy bathroom. (Somehow, he manages to have a fairly decent-sized office in a tiny stall.) Riff is so crazy about Joey Ramone, she imagines him everywhere in her room while high in "I Want You Around." The actual concert gives us an electric montage of Ramones hits, including "Blitzerkeg Bop," "California Sun," and "She's the One," that shows us why girls like Riff were crazy about these guys.

What I Don't Like: Yeah, it's pretty obvious this is a low-budget production. Most of the other teens, including Soles, aren't the best actors...or even really teens. (Soles was 28 during filming.) The Ramones are such bad actors, Dee Dee Ramone had his lines cut from six to two. The movie has a lot of the same problems as the slightly higher-budgeted Get Crazy - it gets too weird and campy for its own good. The antics are frequently juvenile, trashy, and/or annoying, the humor is often plain stupid, and the script veers from sometimes clever to ridiculous. 

The Big Finale: In the end, the energetic numbers and wild and campy shenanigans are enough to make me understand why this has something of cult following. The numbers and general lunacy are enough for me to recommend it to fans of the Ramones, hard rock, or the wacky teen sex comedies of the late 70's and 80's. 

Home Media:  Easy to find in all major formats. It can currently be found streaming for free at Shout Factory TV's website.

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