There is a long standing tradition of taking successful musical stars and placing them prominently in a movie, hoping to catch some of their success in a new medium. However, if you’re producer Roger Corman, king of the low budget independent film, you take an up and coming music act and center your film around them in hopes that, if the music act becomes a success, the movie will follow suit. Even Corman, with all of the luck of the hundreds of movies he produced, couldn’t have imagined the success The Ramones would have gone onto or that, despite that, his film would be left far behind. As with most of Corman’s productions, the budget of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is low, instead relying on cheap gags and good looking girls to draw an audience along with a few affordable stars to draw an audience. In this case the low budget stars consist of Clint Howard and the punk band The Ramones, who the movie’s storyline centers around.
Rock & roller Riff Randell is a huge fan of The Ramones, who are coming to town in concert. Unfortunately at the same time that Riff is attempting to express her love for the band and their music, her high school is placed under the rule of a new principal, Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov), who plans on running the school with an iron fist, enforced by her two goons Hansel and Gretel. It’s a battle for control of the school between Riff and Togar, but fortunately for Riff she not only has The Ramones on her side, but also captain of the football team Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten) and young entrepreneur Eaglebauer (Clint Howard).
With a basic plot of student vs. administration over the ideals of rock music, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School doesn’t stand far away from more popular films like Footloose. In fact, only one thing really separates the two movies: talent. When you place Kevin Bacon against Clint Howard or Vincent Van Patten, Bacon’s going to come out on top every time. That’s not to say Howard and Van Patten don’t make the movie a lot of fun, but it’s easy to see how they’ve gone on to character acting and hosting World Poker Tournaments as opposed to a prestigious acting career. The same is true of the women of the film, P.J. Soles and Dey Young, who, this being a Corman film, I assumed were cast for their more physical assets. No such luck on that front though. Other than a brief scene with Soles in her underwear and a gym scene with all of the actresses in ‘80s style gymwear, there are no scantily clad women to be had.
Even with an appreciation for B movies, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School can be trying at times. It offers some great performances of The Ramones’ music, although their penchant for dialog is downright laughable. However, while the musical numbers are the highlights of the film and the subject of Riff and Togar’s conflict, the Ramones could easily have been removed from the movie and another band inserted in. This is largely because the script was shopped around to a variety of bands before The Ramones were signed. That lack of music and story being intertwined has a large effect on the movie, and it would be very easy to remove the musical numbers and just watch them by themselves if they are the only drawing point of the film for you. In other words, there’s no reason to suffer through the entire film unless you really want to.
While Corman has always been notoriously tight fisted with his productions, the budget and lack of synergy between the music and storyline for Rock ‘n’ Roll High School make this one of the weakest films he produced. Still, it’s fun to see Clint Howard in a practically leading role and to watch The Ramones when they were in their prime (or still alive for that matter). This DVD release is part of Buena Vista’s new “Roger Corman Collection”, a release of some of Corman’s best films given, unfortunately, a poor treatment. Thus far, none of the DVDs in the collection have been remastered. When you consider how long the man has been producing films, you can only imagine how time has taken its toll on the low budget masterpieces. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is no different, showing some visual wear through the movie.
This isn’t the first DVD release for the film, so a few of the bonus materials are repeated here. There are two commentaries, one of which has been heard on the previous release. The new commentary is by Corman and actress Dey Young and is, sadly, a pretty boring commentary. This may be a Corman classic, but as producer he pretty much just held the purse for the movie and wasn’t as involved in the making of the movie. The better commentary is the repeated Allan Arkush (director), Michael Finnell (producer), Richard Whitley (writer) track, which sounds like the guys had a lot of fun recording. Combine that with some actual behind the scenes knowledge and you’ve got a good commentary.
“Back to School” is a retrospective featurette that looks back at the making of the movie and includes interviews with most of the prominent crew members as well as Marky Ramone who lives on to represent the band’s point of view. It’s actually more interesting to hear about the making of the film then to watch the film itself, although knowing some of the steps that had to be gone through to make the movie (does Disco High School sound appealing to anyone?) does make the movie a bit more interesting to watch.
The original trailer, from a day and age where trailers pretty much sucked, is included as an interesting bit of history, along with some raw audio from the filming of The Ramones’ concert sequence. Again, the audio was available on a previous DVD which means other than the second, more boring commentary, and the featurette, there’s no real reason to pick up this release. Particularly when you consider there was an interview between Leonard Maltin and Corman on the previous release that doesn’t show up here.
I’m really glad to see some of these cult classic films get a chance at DVD as part of the “Roger Corman Collection”, although I wish they were getting slightly better treatment. Still, for lovers of The Ramones or B-movies, this release is worth a look… provided you hadn’t picked it up on the previous release.
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