A New World
Miracle Pictures March 16, 2021
On Hollywood Boulevard and Rock 'n' Roll High School
andy Hope (Candice Rialson), a 24-year-old blonde, decides one day that she wants to be a star. So at the beginning of Hollywood Boulevard
(1976), the filmmaking debuts for co-directors Allan Arkush and Joe Dante (1984’s Gremlins), Candy buses from nowheresville Indiana to Los Angeles to try to make her dreams come true. Maybe it’ll work out for her the way it did for Lana Turner, who was famously “discovered" as a 15-year-old while she was buying a soda at a Hollywood malt shop a movie executive also happened to be in. Soon enough, Candy gets what she’d hoped for — that is if you keep stardom in quotation marks. After linking up with an agent — the spread-thin Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), whose office door reads, like exasperation in written form, WALTER PAISLEY, REPRESENTATIVE OF ANYTHING! — she quickly gets cast in several movies made by B studio Miracle Pictures. (“If it’s a
Mary Woronov in 1976's Hollywood Boulevard.
good picture, it's a miracle!,” its slogan goes.)
Most of them are helmed by the haughty Eric Von Leppe (Paul Bartel), best known for such masterpieces as These Raging Loins and Machete Maidens. Most of them also co-star Von Leppe’s swollen-headed muse and Candy’s soon-to-be rival, Mary McQueen (Mary Woronov), who is a vision of full-of-herself divadom. In the course of Hollywood Boulevard, Candy will cut her teeth doing race car-oriented action flicks and sensationalist women-in-prison movies for which Miracle might fly its cast and crew to the Philippines, sans amenities, to save money. The glamorous stardom of Candy’s fantasies immediately clashes with the stardom of her reality. She isn't needed for her magical star quality — it's her photogenicness paired with her willingness to be pushed around that counts most. One running joke in Hollywood Boulevard is that stunt people die all the time: a reminder that bodies are just generally deemed unequivocally commodifiable (like prop guns or muscle cars), especially existing in B-movie land for the purpose of answering a script’s call for a sexy skin flash or something on which to inflict over-the-top violence. “This is not a film about the human condition,” Von Leppe says to McQueen after she angles for clues into her character’s motivations. “This is a movie about tits and ass.”
The narrative in Hollywood Boulevard is loose, and its looseness gives it space to play around. It’s a funny, almost prankish send-up of the B-moviemaking world; it sometimes feels more like a series of skits than a coherent project. Arkush and Dante are taking jabs at what they know, and sometimes the movie radiates the energy you’d expect coming from a film made by a group of people who considered themselves friends. Legend has it that Hollywood Boulevard was made on a bet. New World Pictures head
Roger Corman and producer Jon Davison wanted to see if it was possible to make the most cost-effective movie in the company's history. Arkush and Dante, whose prior moviemaking experience amounted to stitching together trailers for upcoming New World releases, were made the greenlit experiment’s guinea pigs.
It’s obvious, just by looking at the movie, how cheap it is. It often suggests that the cast and crew simply showed up at a given location, started rolling, and hoped they wouldn’t get interrupted. But I think the loud-and-proud money-saving is part of the charm, especially when Dante and Arkush humorously repurpose footage from other New World movies to fill in certain narrative requirements. (The film
most prominently grabs from the studio's 1975 action feature Death Race 2000 — itself a much stronger satirical comedy than Hollywood Boulevard — and 1971’s The Big Doll House.) I’ve always found it endearing, even when the product sucks, when you have a motley crew of filmmakers basically scrounging so that an audience can have a fun evening. Hollywood Boulevard has a good sense of humor about what it is and the conditions under which it was made.
Shot in 19 days, with just $60,000 available to spend, Hollywood Boulevard is a spirited, if a little scattered, apex for Corman’s penchant for churning out silly, commercial movies so cheaply that they could almost be guaranteed to make their money back. It doesn’t quite come together as a cogent satire; one could argue that it is often just rehashing B-movie tropes. There is gratuitous nudity and violence in spades; many of its professed sexual politics have unsurprisingly aged badly with time. But its scrappy
pleasures are bountiful, especially for those who consider themselves fans of the mid-century exploitation moviemaking era. Hollywood Boulevard is an appealingly snarky inside-baseball comedy.
Chief among its delights is Woronov’s amusingly campy performance as a self-important diva with killer ambition. As in all the films in which she starred in her youth (the erstwhile Warhol superstar was a New World staple and frequent working partner to Bartel), Woronov is obviously in on the joke as she’s performing in subpar movies without stumbling into mocking insincerity. “As a star I have a tremendous influence over hundreds of thousands of people nationwide — worldwide,” she says with pitch-perfect highfalutin earnestness at one point. Undergirding so much of the movie’s humor is that the B films of that decade are basically of little value — products to be discarded of almost as quickly as you pay to see them. Hollywood Boulevard isn’t among New World’s best, but it’s sort of touching to find joy in a film that believed from its inception it would come and go some four-plus decades later.
ock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) has the anything-is-possible joy of an adolescent fantasy. This is the kind of movie that makes a whole set piece out of a paper plane zipping around a school’s halls like a jet — like
this folded notebook page had a mind of its own. Another collaboration between a now-more-experienced Arkush, Dante (he helped come up with the story), and Woronov (she plays the school’s party-pooper principal), the movie follows the exploits of sparky high-schooler Riff (P.J. Soles) and her comparatively meek best friend Kate (Dey Young).
In addition to being Vince Lombardi High’s leading rebel (she’s a boundary-pushing, red jacket-wearing Queen Bee), Riff is also an aspiring songwriter. Of all the bands in the world it’s the Ramones she loves the most. When the foursome stops in town as part of its latest tour, she figures now’s her chance to show them the little ditties she’s been working on for them in her bedroom. The best one naturally carries the movie’s namesake; Riff clarifies to a groupie who tries to cut her in line at the mid-movie Ramones show (she skips several schooldays to make sure she’s at the front) that her devotion is of a different kind than your average
megafan. Kate, in the meantime, wants a boyfriend. Her romantic experience chocks up to playing doctor with a neighbor boy as a tot and getting sued for malpractice in their shared pretend world. She has a crush on blonde quarterback Tom (Vince Van Patten); trouble is that he’s more into the flashier Riff. Since Kate wears glasses — the Invisibility Cloak of the high-school movie — it may take a lot for her to get noticed by the boy on whom she has her four heart eyes set.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is something of an extended music video — its centerpiece is a Ramones concert. The story broadly involves Vince Lombardi’s students desperately wanting to simply spend their days in class rocking and rolling and ignoring what their teachers are saying to them. (It’s PG partying when these pupils manage to overthrow a peaceful class period — most people just want to dance.) But efforts are thwarted, over and over again, by their wicked principal. The relationship between teens and adults in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is pretty cut-and-dried. All the teens just want to have fun, and (almost) all the adults are no-fun working types who when not working count undermining
teen fun among their biggest hobbies.
Principal Togar’s evil is comparable to that of a cartoon witch’s. Woronov, again riding the razor’s edge between in-the-know humorousness and actorly dedication, makes an efficient case for herself as an actress who could have succeeded as a Disney villainess. All Togar lives for, it seems, is tormenting her students. She hates rock music — she believes it's the culprit “ruining” younger generations. When Riff decides to hack into the school’s speaker system one day to play “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” Togar doesn’t simply unplug. She snipes the speakers’ wire with a big pair of scissors, then proceeds to give Riff detention for life. She makes a show of her prissiness. Togar is almost McCarthyist in her thinking: Once infected with a love for rock ‘n’ roll before turning 18, you’re too far gone for salvation. (One of the film’s most indelible images is of Togar holding a copy of the Ramones’ Rocket to Russia, which she has set fire to; she looks awesomely mean with her red lipstick-assisted crocodile grin and her hair done in severe, horn-like victory curls — the devil as a headmistress) “Is she crazy?” a compassionate English teacher (Paul Bartel) asks the ludicrously named P.E. teacher, Coach Steroid (Alix Elias). “She’s a principal,” Steroid drily responds.
Vince Lombardi’s students eventually “defeat” Togar — the Ramones climatically show up at the school to cause trouble — and there is, fittingly for a New World B movie, a huge last-act explosion giving the long-marinating chaos a catharsis to tap its energy into. What’s so fun about this anarchic comedy — which is steadily exuberant — is how enthusiastically and creatively it indulges an idea anyone who has been a high-schooler might be familiar with daydreaming about at one point or another: a day where the school belongs to the students, with authorities temporarily becoming the easily shepherded. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School
makes you feel young again.
Hollywood Boulevard: B+
Rock 'n' Roll High School: A-