When Authority-Figure-in-Chief Neil Miller told me I had to write a news story about Howard Stern remaking Rock and Roll High School, I gave him the finger and took a nap. In that order.
Besides, all the other news sites had covered the story in the most bare-bones way possible. Howard Stern. Rock and Roll High School. Alex Winter writing it. The end. After all, there was little in the way of extra details, unless you consider the fact that it shouldn’t be made an extra detail.
After getting my ears wet with bands like Screeching Weasel, Dead Kennedys, and The Queers in middle school, I traced the lineage back and discovered The Ramones just before getting to high school. They’re the Godfathers of the punk movement. They’re a musical icon in the same way The Who or The Beatles are – as innovators, creators, visionaries. And in 1979, they were featured in a little film by Roger Corman called Rock and Roll High School.
It seems fitting that Monday is the 29th anniversary of its release, but the announcement of a remake is not the sort of celebration I think most fans of the film were looking for. At least not this one. Not to fear, though. It might be a bold claim, but not only do I think the remake shouldn’t be made, I don’t think it can be made, and I doubt that it ever will. I also think it already has – how’s that for mind boggling?
Road To Ruin
I shouldn’t have to go into detail about why it shouldn’t be made – it seems obvious in the gut-reaction-mode of thinking that any remake announcement is usually groaned at. We all know why. But as for the film being impossible to be remade, there are two very solid reasons:
1) The culture surrounding the film isn’t present today. Whatever nostalgia we all possess about the filmmaking of the late 1970s and early 1980s with its DYI perfection and general feeling of teenage rebellion, the same environment that birthed films like Animal House and Fast Times at Ridgemont High just doesn’t exist anymore. Teens have little to rebel against anymore. Looking back just a few years, I realized I didn’t either. Even at war, we don’t have the same teen angst and fears that were present back then. Without that world as a backdrop, the idea of a band helping some teens thwart a Rock-and-Roll-hating principal seems completely out of place culturally.
2) There isn’t a band today that is like The Ramones. Or like The Beatles. Or like any other groundbreaker that was needed for a movie like this. Underground but famous, gritty but cheerful. The Ramones sang equally about sniffing glue, wanting to be your boyfriend and whatever “Gabbah, Gabbah, Hey!” means. Their sound was disturbing, electric, but brought back the innocence of the 1950s without fail. What band is supposed to take the spotlight for a remake? Does Rock and Roll actually exist in any recognizable form today? Of course there are innovators and good bands, and of course Rock and Roll is hiding around certain corners, but The Ramones brought something to the table that no modern band can. Without them, a remake will look more like Rock and Roll High School Forever, the ill-conceived sequel starring Corey Feldman that barely resembled the first film.
End of the Century
I can’t say I really know that the project will never get off the ground, but considering the circumstances and the involvement of Howard Stern, it doesn’t seem like a ridiculous proposition. What Stern is attempting to do is to recreate a movie that was made, very much in the spirit of the 1970s, on a budget of less than $1million and try to make it commercially viable in today’s market. He’s also attempting to create a movie that’s been done before and done very well – not just embodied withing the original but within a dozen or so brilliant teen rebellion films.
The project is stuck between two norms. Either it stays low budget and has direct-to-video written all over it or they give it some star appeal and a decent production value and wrap the idea of rebellion in plastic wrap to be easily digested by today’s youth.
Halfway to Sanity
Despite claiming that the remake couldn’t be made well and probably won’t be made at all, I also contend that it’s already been made.
In particular, two films stand out as being close remakes of Rock and Roll High School. First, Detroit Rock City - a film about four guys just trying to make it to their beloved KISS concert. The band was an icon, the parents just didn’t understand and the goal was to make it to the big show. Did KISS show up at the school at the end and become honorary students? No, but the basic framework was visible underneath the new material – in a good way. It is notable, however, that Detroit Rock City was set in the past – which could be a viable option for Sterns’s remake.
The other film embodies the exact concept of Rock and Roll High School with one important inversion. That film is School of Rock (of which a sequel is already being planned). Students at a stuffy school with an even stuffier principal learn to rebel with the help of a musician that leads them to a huge concert finale. The important inversion is that a famous band isn’t helping, it’s a failed musician that turns the kids into a (regionally) famous band.
If there’s one word that comes to mind when thinking of that Jack-Black-Fest, it’s ‘heartwarming’. No one was calling Rock and Roll High School heartwarming when it came out. People still don’t. But I feel it’s incredibly telling of our time that the same basic storyline was retold in such a family-friendly way. Complete with off-the-wall humor. Either that’s where we’re headed with the remake or Stern will see it so far down into the toilet that you won’t be able to make out the lyrics over the gurgling.
Remember that episode of “Entourage” with the dusty old producer who holds Eric hostage all day but pays off when he presents the script for a Ramones biopic? That was a great idea. Treat it seriously, get some good actors, and try to capture the core of who The Ramones were.
Rock and Roll High School is The Ramones version of Help! and A Hard Day’s Night. Just like those Beatles films, it’s silly and over-the-top. It never takes it self seriously, and it ends up being cooler for it. Trying to capture that carefree spirit is going to be incredibly difficult if not impossible.
Strong words, yes. Perhaps this is the first time I’ve ever been really rattled by remake news because it’s a film so close to my heart. Perhaps I’m just shaken by the idea of Howard Stern thinking he can touch the genius of The Ramones. Stern and producing partner Larry Levinson, who has basically cornered the market on bad television productions, are pinheads for doing this. If it does get made, I hope they both realize that with material like this, one can either make money at the box office or make a good film. It can either be as crappy and brilliant as the original or display the sugary, market-ready, pre-packaged rebellion of School of Rock. But it can’t do both. Somehow, I fear, making money is more of a priority than doing the film justice.