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Allan Arkush
The Ramones, P.J. Soles, Vincent Van Patten, Clint Howard, Dey Young, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, Alix Elias
Writing Credits:
Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, Joseph McBride, Allan Arkush (story), Joe Dante (story)

Vince Lombardi High School has quite a reputation: it's the wildest, most rockin' high school around! That is, until a thug of a principal, Miss Togar, comes along and tries to make the school a totalitarian state. With the help of the Ramones, the students of Vince Lombardi battle Miss Togar's iron-fisted rule and take their battle to a truly rockin' conclusion!

Box Office:
$300 thousand.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Monaural

Runtime: 93 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 12/13/2005

• Audio Commentary with Director Allan Arkush, Producer Michael Finnell, and Screenwriter Richard Whitley
• Audio Commentary with Executive Producer Roger Corman and actor Dey Young
• “Back to School: A Retrospective” Documentary
• Trailer
• Radio Ads
• Audio Outtakes at the Roxy
• Sneak Peeks


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Rock 'N Roll High School: Special Edition (1979)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 31, 2006)

For me, 1979’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School qualifies as a serious walk down memory lane. I first saw the flick during my own high school days in the first half of the Eighties. Some of my friends loved it, so I was around for many of the times they screened it. I can’t claim I ever adored High myself, but I thought it was fun and entertaining.

That was more than 20 years ago, though, so I was curious to see how well High held up after all this time. The film focuses on the residents of Vince Lombardi High School. The facility gets a new principal, totalitarian disciplinarian Miss Togar (Mary Woronov). She cracks down on the students and incurs the wrath of rebellious Ramones-loving rocker Riff Randell (PJ Soles). The two constantly butt heads and come to a bigger conflict when Riff skips three days of school to get Ramones tickets. This leads toward a climactic showdown.

We also meet socially awkward football player Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten), a dude desperate to get laid. He decides to spice up his dorky image and sets his sights on Riff. However, Riff’s best pal – nerdy science buff Kate Rambeau (Dey Young) – has a crush on Tom. Both consult teen entrepreneur Eaglebauer (Clint Howard) for help, and this eventually points toward a romantic partnership. The movie follows those elements along with Riff’s attempts to get the Ramones to hear her song.

So here’s the question of the day? Does High rock me like it did when I was 17? Heavens no, but that doesn’t make it a bad film. Younger viewers will likely get more from it than a 38-year-old fuddy duddy like me, though some elements may not have aged well. This is a movie with fashions and music firmly attached to its era. Current teens may identify with the attitudes and gags, but I don’t know how well they’ll dig into the film’s look and sound.

However, the Ramones are something of a timeless rock band, so while hip-hop loving kids will dismiss it, those with an affection for guitars/bass/drums will find more to enjoy. The movie has a timeless tone of its own in some ways. On one hand, the form of anti-authoritarian humor is very representative of what we saw in the period. Every era sticks it to authority, but the late Seventies/early Eighties went with more of a loose, anarchic feel. It lacked the hippie idealism of a decade earlier and was more connected to the deep post-Vietnam, post-Watergate cynicism.

That makes High a big “F you” to adults, but with a wink as well. The movie functions as a definite parody of teen flicks. It doesn’t adopt the self-conscious campiness of Cry-Baby but shows its influences in the way it acts as an update on those efforts. You’ll see a little Grease, a little I Wanna Hold Your Hand and a lot of Fifties teen rock flicks.

High doesn’t emphasize parody as much as Cry-Baby, but ut definitely keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek. It pours on mock dramatics for its cliché characters and blows everything up out of proportion. This can get tiresome at times, but the movie has too much fun with its spoof to cause real problems.

How much one enjoys High will also depend on how much one likes the Ramones. I’m a mid-level fan; I dig their stuff to a degree but don’t place them anywhere on my list of faves. That said, it’s fun to see them here. None of them can act, but we watch enough performance clips to make this a great archival piece for Ramones fans.

A tremendously slight film, I find it tough to think of much to say about Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. It’s a dated but entertaining rock flick that benefits from the presence of the Ramones and a generally lively attitude. Though it falters on occasion, it still offers enough fun to make it worth a look.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio D+/ Bonus B

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That’s right – this DVD appeared to simply reuse the same transfer found on older releases of High. The lack of anamorphic enhancement was strike one, but the quality of the transfer created additional issues.

Actually, much of the movie looked pretty good. Despite the usual slight fuzziness that comes with non-enhanced images, High seemed reasonably sharp. It never was terrifically well-defined, and some mild soft spots occurred, but I thought it presented more than adequate delineation. Jagged edges and shimmering were only minor issues, and I noticed just a little edge enhancement.

Colors seemed surprisingly good. The tones were a little runny at times, but they usually came across as pretty peppy and dynamic. Even colored lighting was fairly smooth. Blacks were unexceptional but seemed acceptably tight, while low light shots demonstrated decent delineation.

Unfortunately, a plethora of source flaws dragged down my grade to a “C-“. On the positive side, the movie’s second half looked significantly cleaner than its previous moments. I still saw some issues, but not to nearly the same intensity.

That said, the first half was a disaster. I saw plenty of marks, spots, blotches, specks, nicks and scratches. Very little of that half of the flick passed without problems, as these defects appeared almost constantly. Despite the improvements that came during the second half, this was still a flawed image that could really use a new anamorphic – and cleaned-up – transfer.

I found the monaural soundtrack of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School to fare even worse. Effects appeared dinky and failed to offer great clarity. Speech consistently sounded thin and reedy. Not much edginess interfered, but the lines seemed lifeless and dull.

Music worked the same way, except I also noticed distortion connected to many of the songs. The music lacked dimensionality most of the time. A couple of elements showed decent low-end, but usually we were stuck with a flat presentation that featured no real presence. The elements were scratchy and didn’t impress at all. While I didn’t expect stellar audio from an older, cheaply made flick, I still thought the soundtrack was surprisingly drab and problematic.

When we check out the DVD’s extras, we find two separate audio commentaries. The DVD refers to the first one as the “original commentary” since it first popped up on a DVD and a laserdisc released in 1997. It includes remarks from director Allan Arkush, producer Michael Finnell and screenwriter Richard Whitley. All three sit together for their running, screen-specific chat.

The guys make this a terrific commentary. We learn a lot about the film’s gestation and various changes made along the way, casting, finding a band and aspects of the flick’s music, the low budget and dealing with producer Roger Corman, locations, deleted scenes, influences and inspirations, and plenty of anecdotes. We find tons of good details, all wrapped in a lively and fun piece. I especially dig the tales about working with the Ramones – it sounds like they were exactly the way you’d expect them to be. I really like this amusing and informative commentary.

Created for this DVD, a new commentary comes from executive producer Roger Corman and actor Dey Young. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific conversation. Unfortunately, it proves significantly less interesting than its sibling.

Don’t expect to learn much from Corman and Young. They talk a little about the production, the movie’s legacy, and Corman’s work on other flicks. The latter elements are the most interesting; though off-topic to a degree, at least we get a decent feel for how Corman dealt with film productions.

Otherwise, this commentary is a dud. Lots of dead air occurs, and when the pair talk, they mostly just name participants or praise the film. This makes the track slow and tedious. Skip it and stick with the “original” commentary.

A new documentary called Back to School: A Retrospective. This 23-minute and 45-second show includes archival pieces, movie clips, and interviews. We hear from Arkush, Corman, Young, actors Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Marky Ramone and Loren Lester, and story writer Joe Dante. It covers the project’s origins and development, visual inspirations, finding a band and impressions of the Ramones, casting and working on the roles, shooting some scenes and blowing up the school, the physical toll taken on Arkush and his one-time replacement, and the flick’s legacy.

Inevitably, since the old LD commentary gets into so much material, a fair amount of repetition occurs here. Nonetheless, we get a reasonable level of new information. The show moves through the production briskly and proves to be fun and enjoyable.

15 minutes and 38 seconds of Audio Outtakes from the Roxy presents the Ramones’ performance for the flick. As described in text at this piece’s start, the movie overdubbed the music and didn’t use this show. That makes this a lo-fi but cool addition to the package.

In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, we get two original radio ads. We see movie stills as we listen to them. At the start of the DVD, we get ads for Casanova, Annapolis, and the Roger Corman DVD Collection.

I can’t say that I dig Rock ‘n’ Roll High School as much in 2005 as I did in 1985, but I think the flick still offers a kick. It doesn’t take itself seriously and it provides a good laugh. The DVD suffers from mediocre to weak picture and sound, while it offers some nice extras highlighted by one very good commentary. Because of the problematic visuals and audio, I find it hard to recommend this DVD, but the movie itself is fun enough to overcome the flaws.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 9
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