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DVD Review: Rock 'n' Roll High School

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Just out from Shout! Factory is a reissue of a classic midnight movie that doesn't feature Jimmy Page ascending into ancient castles, part of a series of films produced by B-movie king Roger Corman, Rock "n" Roll High School that hits the shelves this week. The cult classic didn’t start life as a punk rock vehicle - the script was written under the working title of “Disco High.”

Even after the musical genre inflicting the students was switched to rock, Corman and director Alan Arkush were mulling over Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick and Van Halen as candidates for the heart of teenyboppin’ protagonist Riff Randall (played by the highly crushable P.J. Soles). But the final selection of the Ramones - the only punk band still believed to have any kind of hit potential by early 1979- turned out to be a stroke of genius. More than any other marginally famous band of the era, the Ramones personified the trashy aesthetic and sick sense of humor that pervades Corman’s films.

Riff’s deep romantic obsession with the unquestionably odd-looking Joey Ramone was comical in a way that never would have worked if Robin Zander or Diamond Dave Roth were in the same role. They even looked like the juvenile delinquents you need in any good teen exploitation film. It proves to be a comfortable kind of symmetry: both the film and soundtrack are throwbacks to the pre-psychedelic era of pop culture, bubblegum sounds and monster movies, only the details are updated.

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This DVD package doesn’t add much new to the DVD I picked up in 2001, just a few new commentary tracks. But it does include all the previous extras, which were pretty worthwhile, including a fun making-of documentary and a searing 30 -minute audio segment from the Ramones’ set at the Roxy that was filmed for the movie.

If you ever dug B-movies and Ramones music, it’s the kind of movie that’s easy to love. It moves quickly, the lines are irresistibly repeatable and cult favorites Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov are at their best as the stodgy authority figures repressing the youths. This is a film for every kid who ever believed that school was for fools.