Rock n Roll High School belongs to that eternal genre of movies wherein the youth just gotta break-out from under the leaden oppression of The Man, or in this case, The Woman, that represent all the forces that want to destroy all the fun in the world, and just don’t understand kids today. It’s all about kids standing up for what adults label forbidden: here it is rock n roll (oddly enough) whereas in Break Dance II: Electric Bugaloo it was break dancing (plus, one assumes, all any unfinished plot threads from the first Break Dance film. You get the idea.
This gem of early 1980s culture pits the fun-lovin’ kids, as represented by Riff Randall (played the near-Gidget of her day, P.J. Soles) against the attempts to control them, as represented by the Nurse Ratchett-esque Principal Togar (played by a tightly-coiffed Mary Woronov). In a daring leap, The Ramones are cleverly cast as themselves.
So, anyway, Riff idolizes The Ramones and waits through great trial to obtain a ticket to see them. So Riff waits in line for days just to get the afore-mentioned ticket, while reading everything she can on her fave band. It warms my old and bitter heart to see her reading a copy of Crawdaddy, which was a music magazine of the like one does not see today, sadly. For one, it had real musicians in it. Said ticket is confiscated by The Hairstyle That Dare Not Speak Its Name, setting into motion the quest at the heart of the movie, Riff’s struggle to win a radio contest, for tickets to the show and a chance to meet her heroes. She even has written a song for them. Hey- I gave a poem once to Justin Sullivan and I haven’t heard a damn thing. Thanks Roger Corman for promising me the moon in this movie! Actually, Justin was very nice to me and offered me a cigarette. I have only love for the man and his music. But I digress...
Thrown in for good measure are subplots about frustrated young lovers (including some free dating tips for the recently inflated) and the evil principal’s effort to enlist parents in destroying Rock n Roll, by having a good old-fashioned record burning. This requires youth rebellion leading to a school explosion finale (which was still funny, in those pre-Columbine days).
Essentially, a giant love-letter to The Ramones, the movie includes a number of their songs, often set in pre-video age "video" shots, while the soundtrack is all over the place, pairing 1950s hits with Brian Eno and Nick Lowe, who were at least associated with the Punk movement, plus Fleetwood Mac and Paul McCartney who generally were not. Not that any of that is a bad thing, especially as the movie is generous with the Ramones tunes, which gives the whole affair more focus than the usual Roger Corman fare (For extra points try and find the Darby Crash cameo.)
Like the inevitable inclusion of Alice Cooper's School's Out, this movie still worth it, after all these years.
Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals. He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.