Not a good movie—yet undeniably, a great one—Rock ’n’ Roll High School remains a precious punk document. “It was their Hard Day’s Night,” says the still-spunky P.J. Soles about the Ramones in a new video interview for this excellent DVD package. As accurate as Soles is, it’s worth noting (as many people do on these extras) that the Ramones almost weren’t cast. A “hot, new band,” Devo, was suggested to director Allan Arkush, he remembers. So were just-about-to-break Van Halen (“too wild”). Already, Todd Rundgren and Cheap Trick had been rejected. It was only Johnny Ramone’s love of producer Roger Corman’s movies—the band were admitted horror and sci-fi geeks—that convinced them to sign. Before that happened though, Corman himself had to be steered away from making Disco High.
Such anecdotes create a potent legend around the 1979 comedy, also a time capsule of amazingly dorky clothes, awkward Cali-stoner flourishes and a strangely innocent era when blowing up a high school could serve as a proper climax. Take the time to return to it. What you will see, most movingly, is a beautiful notion of personal freedom: Riff Randell (Soles) needs no hipster glumness to justify her love of her favorite band. She lights up a joint in her bedroom and the guys appear before her, seducers and jesters. They play behind her in the school hallway, floating, as if on wires. They will transport her to anarchy. Corman never made a more dangerous film.—Joshua Rothkopf
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