A human sized female mouse is flabbergasted about recent events at Vince Lombardi High and she’s squeaking angrily to the Principal. On her cutesy dress is embroidered ‘I Hate Mousework’.

On first seeing Rock’n’Roll High School in 1979 (it was shot the year before although it’s set in the very near future of 1980), I wasn’t entirely convinced by it. I’d wanted something that resembled producer Roger Corman’s biker flicks from the 1960s but with punk rockers. Or maybe a social realist film shot in the streets surrounding CBGB, featuring a bunch of desperado Ramones fans behaving badly.

This is a very different beast. A teensploitation flick that focuses on comedy as much as it does on music, some of it gloriously silly.

Then there was the fact that the schoolkids were all so old. As filming took place I was still at secondary school myself. On screen, The Ramones’ biggest fan and leading Vince Lombardi rebel Riff Randell is played by P.J. Soles, who was over a decade older than me, albeit she was a very young looking 28.

The movie kicks off on the day when Riff’s soon to be nemesis, Miss Evelyn Togar takes over as Principal. Her main aim is to improve discipline. She’s a prim and proper authoritarian and vehemently opposed to modern music. And this uptight woman is played wonderfully by Mary Woronov, former dancer with The Velvet Underground!

The problem between the pair is later summed up by Togar as: ‘I am a reasonable, well educated, mature, adult member of society and you are a spoiled, heathen punk.’ Randell, though, isn’t dressed in black with spiky hair and there’s not a safety pin in sight. Instead, she wears bright colours. When we first see her, she’s wearing a red satin jacket patterned with musical notes. If the movie had been named Disco High, she would have fitted in just as well.

Okay, a little background and something of a spoiler. Roger Corman was initially keen on the movie being called Disco High to cash in on the success of Saturday Night Fever. Director Allan Arkush, though, had other ideas. A man who’d worked for years at the Fillmore East, where he’d seen the likes of The Who, Doors and Led Zeppelin, Arkush wanted a rock band to feature, a wise decision, as by this point disco was absolutely mainstream, with clubs like Studio 54 employing an elitist door policy. The climax of the script was to be the pupils blowing up their school and a disco inferno just wouldn’t work. Loud and fast guitars were required and who better to provide that than The Ramones?

Allan Arkush hadn’t appreciated the band on first hearing them but had eventually got them after repeated listens to their debut album. By the time the film was in development, Rocket To Russia was one of his ten favourite albums.

As he cast the film, P.J. Soles wasn’t even aware of the CBGB favourites and her initial reaction on hearing them was: ‘Is this music?’

Co-star Dey Young, who plays Kate, Riff’s geeky best pal, hadn’t heard of them either and when she first met them, she ‘thought they were the oddest creatures I had ever seen.’ You might think she was exaggerating but according to their tour manager Monte A Melnick’s book On The Road With The Ramones, back then in the warm Californian sun, they had problems even entering Disneyland: ‘Because we looked so weird,’ while another time: ‘Joey and Dee Dee decided they wanted to walk around Hollywood, so I went with them. The police stopped us within minutes.’ Most of the world took a while to catch up with the NYC band.

Ironically, the only cast members who already knew and admired them were Paul Bartel, who plays Mister McGree and none other than Miss Togar herself, Mary Woronov. Mary has also admitted to being high on the set! And she wasn’t the only one.

There’s even some mild drugtaking in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, when Riff smokes a joint (in reality a herbal ciggy) and fantasises about The Ramones playing in her bedroom, Joey serenading her with I Want You Around as he gangles around her.

Being one of Roger’s Corman New World productions, the budget was tight but even so Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Marky were often bored hanging around while waiting for the cameras to roll. Luxuries were scarce on the set, and they weren’t keen on the early starts required by film crews. The school’s empty classrooms functioned as dressing rooms. Sometimes they would head over to the school fence, where local punk fans congregated. Some threw over drugs, which Dee Dee was all too happy to pick up, pocket and then try out. He was out his face for the entire shoot. Although an expert in lines of drugs, his three lines of dialogue in the screenplay had to be pruned to one. And even that required take after take after take.

Joey wasn’t much better. He kept forgetting Mister McGree’s name and repeatedly called him Mister McGloop. Due to the tightness of the schedule that day, Allan Arkush was forced to keep Joey’s mistake in – which I reckon only adds to the fun.

The two giant mice we see had as much chance of carving out careers as actors in Hollywood as any of the band.

In her gym class, Riff performs a new song she’s written with the intention of delivering in person to Joey and persuading The Ramones to play it: Rock’n’Roll High School. This is great, even though you might accuse the verses of Riff’s song of resembling Sheena Is A Punk Rocker too closely, but forget that, how can she get the song into the hands of her heroes?

Luckily they announce a tour with a date at the Roxy in LA – sorry, the ‘Rockatorium’ in LA.

Of course, just about everybody in school wants to see the show but only Riff is prepared to skip school for three days to land herself a spot at the front of the queue. On the third day, they pull up to the venue in the Ramonesmobile, a pink Cadillac convertible with Gabba Gabba Hey license plates, and proceed to enter the building, playing I Just Wanna Have Something to Do as they do so. It’s crazy. It’s great. In reality, it was 7 in the morning and they were all as hungover as hell.

Riff snaps up one hundred tickets, which have been requested by her classmates, but unfortunately for Riff and Kate, Miss Togar confiscates their tickets when she discovers the reason for Riff’s recent absence from school.

Will our heroine and her pal somehow get to the concert? You bet. But when Miss Togar discovers Riff and Kate defied her, she launches her ‘first major step in putting the school back on the right track,’ the next morning with a mass burning of rock albums including those by The Ramones.

This means war.

P.J. Soles is the bubbliest Ramones fan ever but eventually her infectiousness won me over and the fact that she wants to be a songwriter rather than just find the boyfriend of her dreams (she only has eyes for Joey) makes a nice change for a teen movie, although there is also a more traditional subplot where Kate desperately wants to go out with Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten), the captain of the football team, and the kind of All American boy that Riff has zero interest in. Of course, Tom only sees Kate’s big owlish glasses and swotty persona – although those science skills of hers are gonna come in handy later in the film. He becomes desperate to date Riff. Problems. Problems.

Seymour Stein and Jonathan Brett coordinated the soundtrack and, considering the movie’s cost (around $200,000), they worked marvels. It not only includes The Ramones but acts such as The MC5, Velvet Underground, Alice Cooper, Eddie and the Hot Rods and even Fleetwood Mac and Wings.

You won’t be surprised that the best thing about the film is getting to see The Ramones at the top of their form perform Blitzkrieg Bop, Teenage Lobotomy, California Sun, Pinhead, and She’s the One live. Superb stuff. It took me back to my own schooldays, seeing them play a pulverising set at the Glasgow Apollo in 1977. Still one of the very best concerts I’ve ever attended.

Finally, a little trivia. James Cameron of Titanic and Avatar fame, worked uncredited as an production assistant. And if you ask me this is much more enjoyable than anything else he went on to direct. As I watched last night, I even smiled widely at the mum mouse’s ‘I Hate Mousework’ dress.

Indeed, so much did I enjoy the movie this time around, that I made the frankly stupid decision to seek out 1991’s unofficial sequel of sorts Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever. Hey, we all make bad decisions in life and hopefully we learn from them.

Even Mary Woronov can’t save things as quasi-fascist Vice Principal Vadar, a more extreme version of Miss Togar. Ruth, Kate and Tom are long gone, replaced by a bunch of charmless pranksters who play in a band called The Eradicators. How bad are they? They even manage to drain every bit of life out of a song like Tutti Frutti. I’m still attempting to eradicate their music from my memory.

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