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Buena Vista Home Video presents
Rock 'n' Roll High School (SE) (1979)

"Things sure have changed since we got kicked out of high school."
- Joey Ramone

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: January 05, 2006

Stars: P.J. Soles, Vince Van Patten, Dey Young, Mary Woronov, The Ramones
Other Stars: Clint Howard, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, Loren Lester, Daniel Davies, Marla Rosenfield, Lynn Farrell
Director: Allan Arkush

MPAA Rating: PG for (brief drug reference)
Run Time: 01h:33m:33s
Release Date: December 13, 2005
UPC: 786936693119
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I don't want to pull a "hey, you young whippersnapper" kind of tone with this review, but I think it's safe to say the era of the drive-in movie theater is pretty much long gone.

Yeah, you can still find one here and there, but the movies themselves have changed so much that the days of the schlocky low-budget feature has evolved so that even bottom tier movies of today look and sound better. A film like Rock 'N' Roll High School, a 1979 quickie title produced under the guiding hand of master auteur Roger Corman—with all of it's campy, tacky goodness—would not have the same impact if it were made today, and my spider senses tell me that the upcoming Howard Stern-produced remake will likely have none of the original magic because that time has come and gone.

The story is pure teenage rebellion, a silly and exuberant sketch-comedy disguised as a feature from director Allan Arkush that has high school rebel Riff Randle (P.J. Soles) bringing down flaming anarchy on Vince Lombardi High when she pits the power of The Ramones against dictatorial new principal Miss Togar (Mary Woronov). Toss in goofy jokes and sight gags, good girl Kate Rambeau (Dey Young) and her crush on hunky Tom Roberts (Vince Van Patten), as well as plenty of music from The Ramones and there really isn't much to complain about here. The film is as giddy and lightweight as can be, but beneath it all it is brimming with the common thread of bucking authority and turning the music up really loud.

Woronov, looking like Joan Crawford's harsher sibling, delivers one of best comedic performances in a tightly wound character who lives to take down the likes of a Riff Randle, and her scenes with The Ramones are ridiculously surreal. And Soles, aside from her slightly more well known Halloween and Stripes appearances, cements her cult celebrity as Randle, the perpetually perky anti-authority figure that just wants to rock. Familiar faces pop up in supporting roles, such as Clint Howard, the late Paul Bartel, and Dick Miller (who gets off one of the best lines by referring to The Ramones as "ugly, ugly people"), and the perfectly flat, stilted reads by The Ramones prove this was their acting zenith during those long ago pre-MTV days.

It's all the loose bits that end up making this the overall "experience" that it is. This isn't polished, slick entertainment; instead what we see is noisy camp, a broad stroke of Corman-induced low-budget filmmaking that succeeds because it was made on such a shoestring. The use of a band like The Ramones, who were hardly a household name back then, now seems even more like Nostradamus-esque brilliance, and I can't see any other group having solidified the three-chord message of rock and roll better than them.

I can appreciate Citizen Kane, I can understand the importance of Gone with the Wind, I can study the symbolism of The Seventh Seal. And Rock 'N' Roll High School? Just as much a classic.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Disregard the backcover blurb that states the version found here is "enhanced for 16x9 televisions," because it isn't. The roughly 1.85:1 nonanamorphic transfer is the same horribly aged print that has cropped up before on the old Lumivision CD case release, peppered with nicks and scratches. Sadly it doesn't appear to have gone through any type of real restoration, so we're left with a film that carries decent coloring but fairly soft edges. This may have not looked all that much better than when I saw it at the drive-in in '79, but in the digital age I had been hoping for a cleaned up anamorphic print to show up eventually.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio has been issued in a rather no-frills 2.0 Dolby Digital mono mix, a somewhat flat but serviceable presentation. Dialogue is always understandable and clear, while thankfully The Ramones tunes sound particularly crisp.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Casanova, Annapolis
2 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Roger Corman, Dey Young, Allan Arkush, Michael Finnell, Richard Whitley
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: For this "Rock On" edition, packaging includes a slipcover, so I guess that's a step up over the original CD case release. Two commentaries—one old, one new—show up, with the latter featuring Roger Corman and actress Dey Young, while the repurposed track carries director Allan Arkush, producer Michael Finnell, and screenwriter Richard Whitley. The Arkush-led track is a strong one, far less giggly than Dey Young's asides on her new track with Corman, and for pure background info it's the preferred choice. Corman is certainly no slouch when it comes to talking about one of his productions, and while he is most definitely The Man, I found myself going back to Arkush, Finnell, and Whitley.

New material is found with Back to School: A Retrospective (23m:46s), a well-stocked look back with comments from Arkush, Corman, Young, Joe Dante, Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Marky Ramone and Loren Lester. Lots of good trivia, such as the original title, which was supposed to be "Disco High" or that Devo and/or Van Halen had been considered for the film's musical stars.

Showing up again is a set of Audio Outtakes at The Roxy (15m:38s), recorded by The Ramones on December 14, 1978 for the big concert scene. The audio quality is pretty good, and the music is played while a handful of still images of the band are shown. The original radio ads (01m:06s) and a theatrical trailer are also included.

The disc is cut into 12 chapters, with optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

This one gets the special edition treatment, and even if the image transfer is the same old nonanamorphic print, the film is still a dose of glorious dumb fun, fueled by the music of The Ramones. Look up the definition of "drive-in movie" and the odds are you'll find a picture of Rock 'N' Roll High School.

Highly recommended.


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