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ROCK SCHOOL (R) (2005)

9.14 Pictures

Official Site

Director: Don Argott

Producers: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce

Written by: Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman

Cast: Asa, C.J., Paul Green, Madi, Tucker, Will


This is a documentary about the very real Paul Green School of Rock Music in Philadelphia. Dating from 1999, this school should not be confused with other films, comic strips, books, or blogs about rock schools, schools of rock, or rock ’n’ roll high schools, real or fictitious. Certainly, this film may capitalize on the audience of these previous endeavors, but it is not merely a rip-off.

Don Argott follows a small group of kids selected from the more than 120 students, examining a range of people of differing ages, backgrounds, and talents, concentrating on their interaction with Paul Green, the eccentric and charismatic founder of the school. Using a relatively compact Panasonic DVX100 24P video camera in order to move freely in the school’s predictably modest rehearsal rooms, covering nine months of progress with the students and shooting over 130 hours of footage, Rock School serves as an excellent textbook example of the advantages of a modest budget. The visuals are sharp, with plenty of illuminating camera work that allows the viewer to catch important details of the environment viz. old concert posters, without undue editorial comment. More importantly, the sound is more than acceptable. It is certainly not perfect, but consider the challenge of working with the disparate levels of sounds and background noises in a music school located in an old Philadelphia office building. Hardly anyone cares about this stuff, so long as the flaws are not too noticeable, but I have to mention it. Even my own damaged hearing caught most all the critical dialog. Highly commendable for a cheap documentary.

As an after-school extracurricular activity, the private instruction at this institution serves as an interesting alternative to soccer, Little League Baseball, or mere piano lessons. Of course, one would expect that the rebellious, antisocial nature of rock music might instill a quite different sort of personal character than that of these more traditional and quaint childhood activities. But wait! There’s more!

Rock music encompasses a wide range of styles and attitudes, but Paul Green focuses on a relatively narrow set of “classics”: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa. Frank Zappa? This is the man who advised kids to go to the library and educate themselves because they weren’t going to learn anything in school. This single irony alone is enough to make this film mandatory viewing for all Zappa fans. I’m not saying you will be guaranteed happy about the way Zappa is taught and performed, but isn’t it interesting enough that he is? And you probably thought that Zappa was purely college-level stuff! I will warn you that it is enough to make some of us old musicians feel even older.

In a way, Zappa is a distraction. This film is about the effects of a vision of music as life, Paul Green’s vision, and a very intensely personal and opinionated vision it is! Green motivates his students in a very time-honored and classical sense; he yells and screams and insults. Sometimes, it is more than just yelling about missed notes; he gets personal. Is he an insensitive and egotistical prick? What does this do to the kids? The beauty of this film is that it allows this story to unfold on its own terms, giving you just enough raw information to draw your own insight. Sadly, this is just a taste. We are left wanting more. It is hard to get past the posing and posturing that is inevitable with musical personalities, but I wish that Argott could have somehow delved just a little deeper beneath the façade, getting a little closer to the individual students. Pay particular attention to Will. He may never be a musician, but he certainly might become one hell of a writer! It would be nice to know that Paul Green told him so. I think he did.

Now, please permit me a personal, yet informative, complaint: Why the fuck is this movie rated “R?” Is it because Paul Green says “fuck” a lot? Could you make a legitimate movie about rock music without this word? Could you credibly pretend to teach kids the real meaning of rock music without saying it? Or, could it be the couple of references to drugs that were insufficiently condemning? Perhaps, instead, it was the references to some aspects of a rock song as being a gift from Satan. That wouldn’t be the sort of thing for young, Christian ears. So be warned, you moralistic Christians, to stay the fuck away from this film. My 13-year-old music student, who coincidentally found Paul Green entertaining and not at all excessive, couldn’t see what the fucking fuss was about. Turns out she has heard the word before, and she commented that it wasn’t used inappropriately here, having been instructed to use it very sparingly herself. Rock music, Paul Green’s school, this Rock School, are all about the value of free expression and offending and challenging the status quo. This film should stir up some healthy controversy and discussion when shown to the wider audience that television would allow, but an “R’ rating will make that a challenge. Perhaps the greatest irony is how little things have changed over the last 40 years. At least the kids play Zappa’s song, “Inca Roads,” not “Dinah-Moe-Hum”! A little perspective, please!

—Steven Harding

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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