Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979)
November 28, 2015 6:35 AM - Subscribe

Rock 'n' roll kids plot to take down their school's fascist administration with a little help from the Ramones. Streaming video available for the moment only on YouTube.

Today, it's hard to imagine the pop-culture world of 1979. Disco was still around but soon to be swept off the radio waves in favor of the watered-down country of the early Reagan years. (The original title for "Rock'n'Roll High School" was "Disco High.") Listening to certain music, and going out to certain shows, meant that you had to look the part or be ridiculed. And you learned about "underground" culture by tuning into college radio or picking it up from your friends.

In the world of "Rock 'n' Roll High School," you can wear hot pink and purple satin and a side ponytail and still be the Ramones' #1 fan without some Mohawked chick kicking your ass. Straight out of Roger Corman's New World Pictures, the movie features Joe Dante on the story (and, uncredited, as co-director). Notable appearances from the cultural underground include Paul Bartel (of "Eating Raoul" fame) and Mary Woronov of Warhol's Factory, looking like a wrongly freed refugee from "Suspiria."

High-school movie humor abounds: freshman nerd is repeatedly stuffed in lockers and trophy cases; dorky jock (Vince Van Patten) buys and outfits van and figures out how to get the girl with the help of a boys' room dating impresario; evil principal is defeated with the help of rock'n'roll.

But if the movie hangs together at all, it's because of P.J. Soles and the Ramones. Ms. Soles, who also appeared (notably) in "Carrie" and "Breaking Away," plays her slightly nasty cheerleader/bad influence with complete conviction and enthusiasm and it's hard not to find yourself drawn in. As hard as it is to imagine Joey Ramone as any type of teen heartthrob, Soles sells it. Her friendship with nerdy beauty Kate Rambeau (Dey Young) makes for some sweet-natured scenes. (And high-school male grossness is shown up for exactly what it is.)

The last 1/2 hour or so of the movie is largely taken up by what might be a live performance by the Ramones to a very diverse group of high school kids, weirdoes, and giant mice. The boys deliver the goods, and out come the Gabba Gabba Hey signs. Lester Bangs on the subject:

When the Ramones bring that sign onstage that says "GABBA GABBA HEY," what it really stands for is "We accept you." Once you get past the armor of dog collars, black leather, and S&M affectations, you've got some of the gentlest or at least most harmless people in the world: Sid Vicious legends aside, almost all their violence is self-directed.

(White Noise Supremacists, 1979).

If you're paying attention, the other tunes on the soundtrack are from excellent places: Wings, Lou Reed, Nick Lowe. 1979 was a unique year, musically speaking, and there aren't many good remembrances of that time. In its own way, "Rock'n'Roll High School" does the trick.

Some decent writing on this film, from the late, great Dissolve:

In Rock'n'Roll High School, rebellion and the Ramones are for everyone
Forum with Keith Phipps and Scott Tobias
posted by Sheydem-tants (2 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Helluva movie. Improbable in some ways but it really works.
posted by davidmsc at 11:25 PM on November 28, 2015

I don't know why I was expecting something more conventional (esp. given the, oh, everything) but I really liked the whimsical touches in this.
posted by johnofjack at 4:41 PM on December 12, 2022

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