The Crawling Ear: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (Forever)
James ventures into the weird world of Rock 'n' Roll High School, where the Ramones reign supreme...
I recently watched Rock ‘n’ Roll High School for what I estimate was the four thousandth time of my short, uncultured life. Man, does that film labor under some serious delusions. The school’s star football player is a lisping yutz who can’t get laid. The hippest kid on campus is balding. The girls all get along and refrain from teasing each other into eating disorders. Mice are often larger than humans, walk on two legs, and wear aprons with cute phrases on them. Strangest of all, the Ramones are so monstrously popular they cause the youth of an entire town to band together, rise up against their academic oppressors, and cause more property damage than a category four hurricane.
Everyone knows that last bit is pure Hollywood fantasy, the same kind of malarkey from filmmakers who wanted you to believe love means never having to say you’re sorry and that Johnny 5 was alive. Generally speaking, nobody in America gave a shit about the Ramones in 1979 (the year this gem came out). Sometimes the actors in this movie look like they don’t give a shit about the Ramones. They all go along with the gleeful partying and wild destruction, though, which I suppose is true to the high school psyche. If the Meat Puppets had shown up at my high school in the mid-nineties and attempted to incite mass teenage hysteria, I probably would have shrugged and joined in the fun despite the fact I find the majority of their catalog less interesting than the economic conditions in Fiji. It’s all about the rebellion when you’re too young to drive or legally purchase alcohol. Doesn’t really matter who’s peddling it.
I’m not saying the alternate reality presented in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is a bad one. I would have loved to have grown up in a world where Joey Ramone was considered the ultimate sex symbol and mice were my near equals. It’s also very sweet how well the core characters get along. They may come from different planets socially/economically/fashion-wise, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be nice and support and nurture one another. It’s total reverse Breakfast Club action. Everybody’s friends. Hell, Riff Randell buys Ramones tickets for all her classmates – and she’s not even running for student body president! She just did it out of the kindness of her heart! The only character who gets routinely harassed and picked on is the sniveling, beanie-adorned nerd. To be fair, the kid was asking for it, dressing like a Harvard student circa 1920. I’m pretty sure he’s still in the school when it blows up at the end.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is admittedly a very silly film, but there’s one sequence that’s always left me ill at ease. No, not the sing along in the gym, although that part is pretty rough. I’m talking about the bit towards the end where Riff and the music teacher, Mr. McGree, are dancing around the Principal’s office and she’s ripping his clothes off. She’s giggling, he’s moaning, and the whole damn scene is just unsettling. Perhaps that’s because I read the newspaper and am acutely aware that in this day and age it wouldn’t stop at playful dancing. We’re living in a post-Mary Kay Letourneau world, a world where Riff and ol’ McGree would be planning how to kill Mrs. McGree the next day so they could finally be together and make lots of gross, red-haired, Ramones-obsessed babies. They’d be the shame of New Jersey, which looks so much like Los Angeles in this movie I’m starting to reconsider my anti-Garden State vacation policy.
Riff and her teacher don’t really matter, though. No one in this film matters except the Ramones themselves, who prove with all their mugging and fumbled lines that bad acting can sometimes be incredibly endearing. This movie could have been called Rock n’ Roll DMV Line and it still would have been brilliant so long as Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky were on camera attempting to emote. It’s almost a crime Da Bruddahs didn’t appear in the 1991 Corey Feldman-drenched sequel Rock n’ Roll High School Forever. That one desperately needed a shot of everyone’s favorite reformed glue sniffers from Queens. I don’t care how old and out of it they were by then. I’ll take anything to help ease the harsh reality that is a post-Goonies Corey Feldman performance.
Actually, there are numerous films that could have been vastly improved by the presence of any or all of the Ramones. Ghostbusters didn’t need all those fancy special effects – all it needed was Joey and a bed sheet (“Boo, I tellsya!”). Dee Dee’s turn as Salieri in Amadeus would have made F. Murray Abraham’s performance look like dinner theater. Marky as the extra-terrestrial visitor in E.T.? Yes, it should have happened. Don’t get me started on Johnny as the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Furlong wouldn’t have stood a chance.
At least we’ll always have Rock ‘n’ Roll High School for all our cinematic Ramone needs. Here’s to the shared vision of Roger Corman and Allan Arkush. It’s a great escape from a world where kids can’t stop torturing one another, mice are regular sized, and three of the Ramones had to die before anyone blinked. Rats off to ya, fellas. I’ll show up for class any time.
James writes every week at Den of Geek. Check out his last column here.