Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock 'N' Roll High School!

Rock 'N' Roll High School, one of my favorite movies ever, was re-released for the third time on DVD last week. The 1979 Roger Corman production was directed by Allan Arkush and starred P.J. Soles, Vincent Van Patten, Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel and, of course, the Ramones.

The first time I ever heard the Ramones was when Rock 'N' Roll High School aired on cable in 1981. I think I would've eventually discovered the Ramones anyway, but hearing their music against the backdrop of Soles' crush-worthy Riff Randell blowing up her high school certainly amplified their appeal at age 12.

In addition to being a very funny homage to the rock and roll movies of the Fifties, Rock and Roll High School's ironic positioning of Joey Ramone as teen heartthrob - an idea borrowed from John Holmstrom's Punk magazine comic - was geek empowerment at its best.

Likewise, the Riff Randell character is chock full of nascent riot grrlisms. Riff's undeniably hot for Joey, but rather than just making her a doe-eyed groupie, Arkush and screenwriter Richard Whitley imbue her with songwriting prowess (in the movie, Riff wrote "Rock 'N' Roll High School" for the Ramones). More importantly, she's the undisputed rebel leader of the entire school, a role traditionally held by males.

The new Buena Vista edition includes a new retrospective with interviews from Corman, Arkush, Howard, Marky Ramone and Dey Young, who played Riff's "straight" best friend, Kate Rambeau. There's also a new commentary track with Corman and Young. It's too bad they couldn't get P.J. Soles, who continues to be a prolific presence in the B-movie world, having appeared in Murder on the Yellow Brick Road and Pee Stains and Other Disasters just this year.

Arturo Vega's "official" Ramones Web site has some great "reunion" photos of the surviving stars from a prostate cancer benefit screening of Rock 'N' Roll High School that took place in July at Hollywood Forever cemetery, where Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone are buried.


Kat said...

I heart RCE (Ramones Conversion Experience) stories... mine was seeing RNRHS at the Judson Road drive-in in San Antonio. Sprouts, Joey! Riboflavin!

If you saw RNRHS on cable in 1981, maybe you saw some weird special on "new wave" with the Suburban Lawns in it? I'm sort of haunted by that, although I can't remember the other (undoubtedly better) bands. Just "Gidget Goes To Hell".

Anonymous said...

My first dose of all things Ramones was courtesy of Dr. Demento. "Teenage Lobotomy" hooked me. It was kinda funny but not in a "Fish Heads" or "Pencil-Necked Geek" kind of way. Plus it rocked. The good doctor played a lot of punk "novelty" songs at the time - it must have been '79 or '80. Shouldn't he have his own Sirius channel by now?
DDT did a job on me - Jennings

BB said...

Greatness, pure greatness. It's one of those rare movies that I pretty much put on and forced my wife to watch. It's Corman's finest moment (er, 90 minutes, whatever).

"Mmmmm... pizza!"

Anonymous said...

A great, fun film like they don't make anymore.

I wonder why PJ Soles didn't go on to major stardom after this? I fell in love with her immediately, and I was way past teenagehood when I finally saw it.


greg said...

Kat, I think I saw RNRHS on the Movie Channel, but was it "New Wave Theatre" or "Night Flight" on USA Network you're speaking of? They always showed weird stuff on Fridays and Saturdays around midnight.

Kat said...

Oooh, New Wave Theatre! I think that's the one that used to show The Sports and The A's. And Squeeze, and the Police before Sting had fifty Grammys...

The weird Suburban Lawns thing was a "special" on Cinemax or Showtime. I obviously need to do some Googling.

Cable TV was a great thing for a kid in the late 70s/early 80s, though, before everyone had instant access to everything. That's how I saw Animal House about seventy times... and Mr. Mike's Mondo Video. All hail the Jack Lord!

snax said...

Wow! What a flashback Kat created for me - One of my coveted vinyl EPs is Suburban Lawns, but I never saw the show you referenced, darn!
I was always envious of Riff Randell!