Yessiree Bob, they’re gonna milk CD boxsets and DVD re-releases until the last Gen Xer is standing and the final boomer is buried. So we’ve got this, like the third release of 1979’s Rock ’n’ Roll High School on DVD. Hell, there was even a laser disc once, after a couple VHS versions. But I don’t see anyone complaining when they print up the 4,000th edition of the New Testament to shove at you while walking around downtown (well, it kinda pisses me off!), or when Barnes & Noble pays some shmucko to come up with a new cover design for Of Mice and Men every two years. So why should the greatest rock & roll movie of all time be treated with any less crass profitability?
Forget the fact that Rock ’n’ Roll High School is Roger Corman’s best flick (I know, not a lot of competition, despite receiving an honorary award from the Oscars this year), it is one of the three best American films of all time. Okay, okay, but there’s no denying that the tracking shot of the Ramones buzzsawing down the high school halls killing “Do Ya Wanna Dance” past lockers full of crap you’ll never read again, with everyone—from the cheerleaders, the jocks, the nerds, the marching band, and the, uh, other students—all arm-in-arm on their way to burn the school down, while Riff Randle (former softcore porn teen PJ Soles) is slowly levitating into the air on fumes of youth, D-chords and Joey Ramones’ natural nutty osmosis, is one of the three best scenes in the history of American film.
Not to mention the backstage scene, where apparently it took Dee Dee Ramone 12 takes to remember his line of “Pizza!” Or the bedroom scene, with Dee Dee in the shower (probably a first that week), Joey playing out a fantasy of crawling onto a girl’s bed and winning her coo with his croon (something it’s fair to say probably never happened to this lonely Queens geek in his high school days), and the Nazi-styled principal played by a former Warhol Factory regular. There’s also exploding mice and the late great Paul Bartel, of course. Oh god, and there’s the solid eight minutes of live 1978 Ramones, arguably the band’s artistic and career dreams height!
Absolutely nothing in this film has gotten old. Even the somewhat dopey sections where they attempt to develop the ubiquitous romantic subplot (a regrettable hallmark of early-80s doofus comedies) have a charm, mainly thanks to the buck-toothed bravado of Van Patten’s wingman, Clint Howard.
May as well keep rolling with the hyperbole. Some of the best one-liners in flick history pop out here like bubblegum breaking over your schnozz:
“Do your parents know you’re Ramones?”
“High school sure has changed since we got kicked out.”
“This is the big time girly, this is rock & roll.”
“Wheat germ Joey, wheat germ!”
Additionally, all the extras are here from the various previous releases of this Night Flight-fed classic: the trailers (radio trailers even); new and old interviews with a number of production heads, including the director Allan Arkush and Corman; outtakes from the amazing Ramones live scenes from the Roxy in Hollywood; and a newly recorded sit-down with the actors who played the three main characters (Vincent Van Patten, Dey Young, and PJ Soles), who hadn’t seen each other since the wrap.
It is amazing how spot-on the casting was for this movie, as each actor has become exactly as you may have thought their characters would. Van Patten, a former blonde “big man on campus,” seems quiet and humbled by time and fleeting fame. Young, the nervous homely girl, is now clearly neither. Most inspiring, though, to an almost teary-eyed level, is PJ Soles, who’s constantly cutting off the others with her excited interjections about making what turned out to be her career pinnacle. Even when describing how she’d never even heard the Ramones until about a week before filming (and didn’t much like them at first), the look in her eyes and the enduring bounce of her head three decades later says they converted her in spades.
It’s always hard to capture the high school experience on film, because we all had different experiences. Those writing and directing are usually a good decade-plus removed from their time in hell, and the basic classroom nuts and bolts are tweaked yearly as technology moves faster than Johnny Ramone’s wrist. But one thing remains constant: if the fuckin’ school faculty won’t let you crank your favorite tunes in the parking lot while skipping out on first period, you want to burn the school down. Most don’t. Rock ’n’ Roll High School does, though, in so many ways.