It was not exactly a quiet evening at the movies. But then it's not often that a film is the headliner for a rock 'n' roll show. Last night's Washington premiere of "Rock 'n' Roll High School," featuring the Ramones, was just such an occasion.
Although the film was opening in a number of area theaters, almost 1,000 fans packed the Ontario Theater. It was a party for D.C.'s hard-core rock constituency. The area's best rock 'n' roll bands, the Slickee Boys and Razz, opened the celebration. After the film, the four Ramones themselves appeared, though they didn't play.
The audience, ebullient from the start, covered the gamut -- pre-teens and aging rockers, high school dropouts and lawyers, long-hairs left from the '60s and fashionable short-hairs for the '80s. Although there was some punk garb, most dressed in the Ramones' own preferred attire: T-shirts, frayed jeans and sneakers.
They were all looking for the same thing, though -- the simple energetic relief promised by the bands in the movies. Steve Hoffman, a law student, saw the event as essential therapy. "After a long day of writing legal briefs," Hoffman said, "my brain is worn. The Ramones are like soaking your head in a hot tub."
National rock and TV critic Robot Hull journeyed all the way from his retreat in the Shenandoah mountains for the event. "I needed a break from 'F-Troop' reruns," Hull explained.
It is unlikely that any band outside of the Ramones, considered by many to be America's greatest rock 'n' roll band, could inspire such an event. From their beginnings in New York City in 1975, this dog-faced foursonme in black leather jackets has stood for nothing but the best teen-age version of action, fun, and energy.
The Ramones were accepted quickly as rock 'n' roll's best alternative to the calculated sophistication and untouchable superstars of modern rock. The primal force and maniac economy of their sound and the band's goofball, comic image turned off rock's mainstream, but bound their devotees that much closer to them. Besides, behind a front of high-volume, rapid-fire rock 'n' rool are four shy, sincere and loveable suburban kids.
The band mingled with the crowd, shook hands and signed autographs. Dee Dee Ramone, the band's bassist, obviously taken aback by the general excitement, remarked, "It's weird, it's really weird. I feel like we should be playing."
The crowd treated "Rock 'n' Rool High School" not as a film to be viewed but as a participatory event. With the opening credits, the Ramones' surf classic, "Sheena is a Punk Rocker," blared out and the crowd responded -- some dancing, some cheering and some clapping.
When Joey Ramone, the band's gangly lead singer, was asked how many times he had seen the film, he answered, "Five." How did he like it? "It's great," he said. "You know, it's fun." CAPTION: Picture, The Ramones -- Joey, Johnny, Mark and Dee Dee -- at Ontario Theater; by Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post