The letter began and ended by saying, "Hey! There's a lot of movies from the 1970s you haven't said anything about."
That is true, I replied, even if you did conclude your sentence with a preposition.
Many of the movies I have seen from the period I most enjoy--1967 through 1975--are fairly obvious choices. I have to assume a few things and one of the things I take for granted is that anyone nice or even twisted enough to read this website with regularity has probably seen most of the easy great movies, such as The Godfather, Godfather II, The French Connection, The Sting, Badlands, Sleeper, Klute, 2001, Midnight Cowboy, Cool Hand Luke, and The Jungle Book. What I try to do here, with varying degrees of success, is to focus on movies around and about that period that people may have forgotten or may have not seen or may have not seen reviewed in the way we do it here.
It also feels right to jump outside the 67-75 time warp when a particularly enjoyable movie treads down the pike and tonight we have one of those often under-appreciated movies that some wide-eyed bozo decided to call "cult films." This one came out in 1979 and had the heavy backing of Roger Corman himself. We can only be talking about Rock 'n' Roll High School.
The story itself is mostly just a bunch of leggy silliness: Fascist high school administration wants to stamp out hormonally-charged youth music. The curious thing about Rock 'n' Roll High School is that the movie actually gets damned near everything dead on. High School really is what the fascinating P. J. Soles (as Riff Randell--P.J. played Norma in the original Carrie) claims it to be. It's just a walled-off place grown-ups send you for four years because they don't know what else to do with you. Of course, it's also a concentration camp for the programming that's supposed to make you devote all kinds of time digging sports teams for no particular good reason, a place where you learn to play marching band instruments (I was delighted to recently learn that a friend of mine never once played her instrument; she just pretended to all four years!), and sublimate your sexual tensions until you get lucky enough to find somebody who can tolerate your awkwardness long enough to take care of that little problem.
I don't want to give the impression that anybody associated with this movie necessarily wanted to change the world, although I have to admit that when we watch The Ramones play it really is possible to believe that music can mow down the Philistines better than all the automatic weapons imaginable. So I also don't want to claim that these kids don't want to change the world. If you remember your HS years with anything like the fogged-out clarity that I do, you may recall that what it felt like was going on in between the church meetings, the physical abuse, the lectures, the waiting in line for some idiot principal to pick the lint out of his ass before taking the microphone--it was all really too much to take on and I suspect we knew we were bound to lose so the only appropriate action was to blast all the bad shit out of our collective brains with whatever we could find that was annoying as hell to the men and women in suits.
I remember our school's chemistry teacher. Her name was Jean Mills. She and I did not get along well. You see, just like in your school, there were the kids who toed the line and those who did not. Jean really liked her line-toers. That meant she was never going to like me so I didn't even bother to pretend to understand what was going on. To get away from as much of this woman's insolent neglect as possible, one day I was hanging outside the classroom, waiting for Mills to come by and unlock the door so we could collapse inside. Then inspiration struck me. I pulled a sharpened pencil from my pocket and rammed the point into the lock hole, breaking off the lead. When the teacher finally deigned to arrive, she jammed her key into the lock and the graphite point froze into place, requiring her to summon the janitor to pick out the pencil tip so she could get us inside the room. Well, that blew about half an hour that we would have been wasting balancing unstable equations.
My little prank worked so well that I did the same thing the very next day and was rewarded with the same results. It didn't dawn on me that anyone would rat me out.
Not wanting to push my luck, the next day I decided against a three-pete. When the bell rang, the door unlocked from the inside. I turned the nob and we all entered. Inside waiting for us was Jean Mills and the fat-assed principal, Dow West. He didn't know me from Adam, but Mills poked him in the ribs as she nodded at me and said, "That's him."
While everyone else in the class took their seats, West pulled me out into the hall and informed me that he knew I had been the one who had "sabotaged" the classroom door. I suggested he might be in error. He smiled and said, "You're right. I can't prove you did it. If I could, I would give you the hardest beating I've ever given a student here."
I told him to use his threats on a student who was afraid of him.
He never did get around to giving me that beating, although my senior year I was suspended for three days for some minor infraction because West had been patiently waiting for any opportunity. I didn't care then and I still don't.
What Riff tells her friends at Vince Lombardi High School is that nothing that happens there will matter to them in a few years. She's exactly right.
Except: One thing that sometimes happens is that you get to meet some people who will stay in your head for years into the future. Usually those are the people you imagine are a lot like yourself, people who maybe experience the world the way you do, people who like your music, or like the way you dress or talk, or who enjoy the jokes you tell. It's a narcissistic time, but in this case narcissism is about all a kid has to keep himself sane against precisely the type of cartoon administration this movie creates.
Plus the music's great. You get all the big Ramones hits like "Sheena is a Punk Rocker," "Teenage Lobotomy," "Blitzkrieg Bop," and the title tune. You also get to see a high school blown to smithereens.
The acting is no big shakes, but who cares? This isn't a movie for the ages. This is a movie for the moment. That moment has lasted, though. After all, as the tagline warned, "Will your school be next?"