I'm watching Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979) again this week, and I'm finding that it's such a peculiar movie. If it had been made with a slightly different tone, it would have been a total failure, a complete collection of clichés and supremely awkward moments. But it does have just the right tone, a weird combination of realism and surrealism, joy and satire, wisdom and naiveté, just like the music of the Ramones. Just when it seems like it shouldn't be working, it tips over to the other side and does work. And in my eyes, it's the second greatest rock 'n' roll movie of all time (after A Hard Day's Night).
Who's responsible for this? It could be director Allan Arkush, who had more success on television than in movies (Caddyshack II). It could be co-screenwriter Joseph McBride, who I know as a professor of film at San Francisco State University and the author of several books including the great "Searching for John Ford." It could be co-story writer Joe Dante, who went on to become one of this country's greatest makers of satires and dark comedies. It could be producer Roger Corman, whose impact in the history of film is immeasurable and is the author of at least a half-dozen great films. Or it could be the collective charisma of an enviable cast of B-movie misfits like P.J. Soles, Clint Howard, Dick Miller, Mary Woronov, and Paul Bartel (the latter of which was also a director). Or perhaps it was the Ramones themselves, who seem mostly bewildered and along for the ride.
(See the video after the jump.)
This is a very typical scene, a musical number set to "Do You Wanna Dance?" as the actors and band move awkwardly down a hallway, sometimes lip-synching and sometimes not quite. Joey Ramone can't seem to remember that he's holding a microphone, and Johnny and Dee Dee look confused, painfully aware that their instruments aren't plugged in. The rest is barely choreographed chaos, with actors and extras jumping around randomly, and nary a mark in sight. P.J. Soles manages to keep things bouncing, though, and somehow, the entire scene comes across as a happy, joyous mess, rather than an unsightly one.