Monday, 6 October 2014

Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979)

Apparently this film was originally intended to feature Cheap Trick, but a schedule conflict forced a different band to take centre stage.  I suspect that conflict may have been 'Cheap Trick finally having a hit record in the US'.  But I also suspect the film is the better for featuring a more no frills band like the Ramones.

The movie tells the story of Vince Lombardi High, an exaggerated version of every troubled high school in cinema history.  There aren't just boys smoking in the bathroom; it's literally impossible to see in there due to the miasma that fills the room.  The new principal, Ms Togar (Mary Woronov from Death Race 2000, which automatically makes me root for her) isn't just a strict disciplinarian: she's an out and out lunatic.  And so on and so forth.

Togar's chief adversary is "Riff" Randall.  Riff's a huge fan of the Ramones, and with the technical assistance of her brilliant best friend Kate, she's always up to hijinks of one kind or another.  Togar can't abide Riff's refusal to follow the rules, and Riff has no time for Togar's strict regulations.

As I watched the first ten minutes of this film, I rolled my eyes at a lot of the jokes, with their obvious "standard motifs turned up to 11" vibe.  But the film's strength is its commitment to those jokes.  It keeps coming back to them: turning them up to 12, then 15, then 20.  A running gag involving testing the effects of rock music on lab mice, for instance, grows steadily more and more absurd while being treated as ever more pedestrian and normal by everyone involved.

So this did manage to worm a few laughs out of me, and at the end of it I feel pretty well disposed toward it.  It's a very simple movie, with a broad sense of humour and a heavy reliance on tried and true themes of teenage rebellion to win the hearts of its intended audience, but it does what it does pretty well.

The problem of course, is that "what it does" is something a lot of films do.  This film's attempt to stand out comes from trying to tie into the fanbase of a rising rock band (though the Ramones never did quite turn their cult status into true chart success), and whether or not you're going to be interested probably comes down to whether you're the kind of person to throw up the horns for Sheena is a Punk Rocker or not.

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