While prepping to shoot the 1979 movie "Rock 'n' Roll High School," director Allan Arkush had Joey, Johnny, Dee and Marky Ramone of The Ramones to his house to watch The Beatles' "Hard Days Night" as inspiration.
They'd met a couple of times before to establish trust with each other and to read over the script.
'That's where I learned they couldn't act," Arkush says of the punk rockers. "They could barely read."
Arkush says he loved The Beatles and their 1964 movie and wanted to approach shooting The Ramones similar to how Richard Lester dealt with The Beatles.
The guys were immediately drawn to Arkush's massive record collection, which impressed them, but then Johnny pulled out a Grateful Dead record, and the movie project was suddenly in peril.
If you go
› What: Screening of “Rock ’n’ Roll High School”
› When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25
› Where: Palace Theater, 818 Georgia Ave.
› Admission: $7
› Phone: 423-803-6578
› Online: https://chattpalace.myshopify.com
"Do you like them or what?" Arkush says the late guitarist demanded.
"'Or what' was something he said when he was upset," Arkush says.
"The Ramones, especially John, hated hippies. They were like the Antichrist to them, and they certainly didn't like the Dead. They stood for everything that hippie life wasn't. They were still not trusting me and getting to know each other, and he said, 'How can you like them and like us?'
"I'm like, 'That's a good question.'"
Arkush says he asked if the guys knew about the Auteur Theory, which postulates that no matter what movie a director makes, it's always recognizable as his work. Alfred Hitchcock is often used to best illustrate the theory. Arkush told them that the Grateful Dead and The Ramones could demonstrate the theory.
"The Ramones could play a Grateful Dead song, which shocked them, and it would not sound like the Grateful Dead. It would sound like The Ramones. And if the Grateful Dead wanted to come out with 'I Wanna Be Sedated,' it would come out 10 minutes long, but it would sound like the Dead and be amazing, and that is what I believe about both of these bands. John gave me this, 'Ehhh,' and a trust was established."
"Rock 'n' Roll High School" is the next film to be shown as part of the Sunday Slasher series at the Palace Theater. Curator Jason Savage reached out to Arkush, who agreed to record a video introduction for the screening.
"He has been very cool about everything," Savage says.
Arkush says that he was inspired to make "Rock 'n' Roll High School' by his own high school experiences, and in fact conceived the film while staring out the window during class. He says what he appreciates more than the fact that it is still talked about 40 years later is the number of women who have told him over the years how important the central character, Riff Randell, has been to them.
The film is the story of a young girl who takes control of her life and fights against the authorities who want to get rid of the rock music that is making kids crazy, or so they believe. The students take over the school and make The Ramones honorary students.
"Men love the wackiness, of course, but it really affects women because of Riff's character," Arkush says.
Arkush believes The Ramones' music spoke to audiences everywhere.
"It's what binds us all together," he says.
Arkush, 71, lives in Los Angeles, where he does some teaching at the American Film Institute and is involved in the Trailers From Hell project, an online collection of reviews of famous films by industry insiders such as Arkush. He also continues to add to his record collection.
He says that, as a child, he had the usual assortment of Disney records and must have played "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" and "Peter and the Wolf" a few too many times because his parents took the record player from the kitchen and put it in his room, "so they wouldn't have to hear the same songs over and over.
"Then I found [disc jockey] Murray the K. He loved the girl groups like I did, and he brought things like surf music and Bob Dylan."
Arkush says he loved all of the Motown music coming out of Detroit. After graduating from Fort Lee High School in New Jersey, he attended New York University film school (Tisch School of the Arts) and lived in Greenwich Village, then the epicenter of New York City's counterculture movement. He saw Dylan do a full electrified set shortly after his famous show at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 and later got a job as an usher at the newly opened Fillmore East venue.
He later worked on the stage and lighting crews, "and saw every great classic-rock act except The Beatles and The Velvet Underground, which I regret to this day. They were playing around the corner, and I never went. That was a mistake."
He is just as passionate about music as he is filmmaking and often merges the two. In addition to "Rock 'n' Roll High School," his music-related film credits include "Get Crazy," "Shake, Rattle and Rock!" "Elvis Meets Nixon" and the television miniseries "The Temptations."
His television directing credits are even longer. He has directed episodes from "Fame," "The Twilight Zone," "L.A. Law," "Moonlighting" and "Ally McBeal." In fact, the shows he did for the last two were their highest rated of the series.
"For the "I Am Curious ... Maddie" "Moonlighting" episode, he had "Be My Baby" playing as Dave and Maddie finally hooked up. "Hooked on a Feeling" was the music played over the famous "Dancing Baby" McBeal episode.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
Allan Arkush credits
› “Hollywood Boulevard” (co-directed with Joe Dante) (1976)
› “Grand Theft Auto” (1977) (uncredited) - Clown
› “Deathsport” (1978)
› “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” (1979)
› “Heartbeeps” (1981)
› “Get Crazy” (1983)
› “Caddyshack II” (1988)
› “Shake, Rattle and Rock!” (1994)
› “Young at Heart” (1995)
› “Elvis Meets Nixon” (1997)
› “The Temptations” (1998)
› “Prince Charming” (2001)
› “Fame” (1984-1986)
› “The Twilight Zone” (1986)
› “L.A. Law” (1986)
› “St. Elsewhere” (1986-1987)
› “Moonlighting” (1986-1989)
› “Tattingers” (1988)
› “Capital News” (1990)
› “The Bronx Zoo” (1987)
› “Bodies of Evidence” (1992)
› “I’ll Fly Away” (1992-1993)
› “Johnny Bago” (1993)
› “Sirens” (1993)
› “Moon Over Miami” (1993)
› “Rebel Highway#8221; (1994)
› “Shake, Rattle and Rock!” (1994)
› “Dawson’s Creek” (1998)
› “The Temptations” (1998)
› “Ally McBeal” (1998-1999)
› “The Practice” (1999)
› “Crossing Jordan” (2001–2007)
› “CSI: Cyber” (2015)
› “BrainDead” (2016)
› “NCIS” (2016)
› “Nashville” (2017-2018)
› “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (2018)
› “Another Life” (2019)