THE BEGINNING

Turns out Andrew Anderson’s been remember The Ramones’ movie all wrong.

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ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979)
Do you have a film you always insist on introducing people to? The one where you say “What – you’ve not seen xxxxxx!? We must watch it RIGHT NOW!” And you sit them down and make them watch the full film no matter whether you’re meant to be at work, nursing a sick relative or dunking a baby at a christening – all things can wait until they’ve seen this essential piece of movie history.

And then, while you’re watching, you realise actually the film isn’t that good after all. How did you manage to get so excited over it? You have to start making excuses for it “don’t worry – it gets good soon,” or, “you’ve got to remember that at the time it was ground breaking,” or even, “it is good so SHUT UP.”

For me that film is Rock and Roll High School, starring The Ramones. For some reason I always remember it to be this super kick-ass bratty film, with The Ramones dishing out top tunes, smart moves and incredible acting performances that deliver on their full punk promise. Whereas, in actual fact, The Ramones barely even feature in Rock and Roll High School, and in all honesty the film is more Beano than Bill Hicks on the social insight scale.

Rock and Roll High School plays up American high-school tropes in much the same way as Happy Days, which was quite possibly the inspiration here (Ron Howard’s brother even appears in the film). Let me set the scene: the kids at Vince Lombardi High School are struggling under the oppressive regime of Principal Togar. Togar does a good line in looking like a Nazi (she even has a master plan called ‘the final solution’), but in actual fact isn’t all that scary on the evil-teacher index (she’s no Demon Headmaster, that’s for sure). Anyway, Togar’s research has told her that mice exposed to rock and roll music either explode or dress like the Fonz, so she’s keen to shut down the fun (boo!) and stop Vince Lombardi kids listening to The Ramones and generally being ‘up to no good.’

At this point, teenage troublemaker Riff Randall steps in. Riff thinks The Ramones are ace and causes mild levels of havoc across the school by repeatedly playing their records and harping on about how cool, catchy and downright sexy they are. She even buys everyone at the school tickets to see them play – at which point the band actually shows up for the first time (37 minutes in). However, when they do decide to arrive on the scene they are driving a Cadillac and singing ‘Tonight’, so they score points for style if not punctuality. Around the same time Riff has a weed-induced dream in which Joey Ramone appears in her bedroom and seductively sings ‘I Want You Around’ while Johnny plays guitar and looks on in an unnecessarily threatening manner (it should come as no surprise to discover that Johnny Ramone is a total cock-blocker).

Speaking of cock-blocking, a second storyline follows hapless hunk Tom and his fix-it friend Eaglebauer (played by Ron Howard’s brother, who looks quite a lot like a weasel) as they try to get laid with Riff and her best friend Kate. Of course, as all high-school males know, you can’t actually talk to women – it doesn’t work like that. Instead, you’ve got to conduct a campaign of subterfuge, manipulation… and if you can pimp out a van with a waterbed, then so much the better.

Rock and Roll High School is crammed with crap visual puns and lame one-liners of the kind found in David Zucker films like Airplane! and The Naked Gun series. Personally I love jokes about masturbation, exploding mice and the idea of a ticket scalp actually carrying a tomahawk, so for me this works out very well. However, this sort of stuff doesn’t help with my whole “this is the greatest film ever” argument, and by this point whoever I am forcing to watch it is usually pretty pissed off with me.

Principal Togar then tries to ban Riff from going to the concert, but Riff turns up anyway and manages to get backstage to meet The Ramones. She gives them a song she’s written called ‘Rock and Roll High School’ and they become friends. This part of the film is notable for The Ramones actually having dialogue, which they deliver as though they are reading it from poorly written cue cards (they probably were).

Togar finally goes too far by burning The Ramones records (and some Bob Dylan ones too, just for good measure). This leaves the kids with little choice but to burn the school down with the help of The Ramones. “We’re not students – we’re The Ramones,” says Johnny, as Togar confronts them. Take THAT, Principal Togar!

My favourite thing about this film is, and has always been, the assumption that all school kids love The Ramones. What I wouldn’t have given at school for an alternate world where everyone thought The Ramones were the best band ever, rather than just me and a small collection of friends who were equally spotty and unpopular.

Rock and Roll High School is stupid, full of terrible jokes and the main protagonists aren’t cool or tough. It has almost nothing to do with the powerful social forces sweeping the world in the late 70s. It isn’t a film that will change your life.

So why does my memory always tell me this is a stone cold classic? Because I love crap jokes, lame characters and will take pop nonsense over political protest any day. I remember the film how I’d like to think of myself – cool, cutting edge, and clever. Then I watch it and remember the reality: I’m just another nerdy Ramones fan who prefers puns to punk attitude, silliness to social commentary and knows a catchy chorus can’t be beaten.

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