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Review: Rock School

Don Argott’s documentary initially plays as a fawning postcard from the world of alternative education.

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Rock School
Photo: Newmarket Films

“If it wasn’t for rock school, I’d probably be dead,” one sullen teenager conjectures, with a hint of self-awareness, in Rock School. He’s hyperbolic and self-centered, sure, but so are most kids between the ages of nine and 17. You can send them to play basketball, or ship them off to etiquette classes, but why not a school that channels the adolescent surplus of adrenaline and ennui into something artistically productive?

Enter the Philadelphia-based Paul Green School for Rock Music, an after-school program where 120 prodigies and social misfits gather for doses of Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, for Satan worship and guitar practice. Don Argott’s documentary initially plays as a fawning postcard from the world of alternative education, until owner/proprietor Paul Green reveals himself as a creepier, angrier rock teacher than, say, Jack Black. “Don’t fucking make mistakes!” he yells at one ‘tweener. “You mess up once, I’ll fucking punch your face out!”

Like an SNL version of a high school basketball coach, Green makes fun of kids for their social and religious choices, freely tells his students that they suck, and stages violent Vietnam recreations for kicks. Still, the results are often impressive, as his students knock the socks off former Mothers of Invention at Germany’s Zappanale festival, and slay Ozzy-faithful at a Black Sabbath tribute. Green, a failed performer who worships the music of 1972, freely admits to rocking vicariously through the kids; his goal, he says, is to have his students show up on Rolling Stone’s list of 2007’s Best New Artists, and to finally receive his due recognition.

As talented as some of Green’s students are, riffing on Zappa and Black Sabbath is hardly the road to fame in a shape-shifting music culture, and the man knows that most of his students will experience crushing failure. Even so, there’s something unsettling and downright Dickensian about Green’s hard-knocks method and proprietary stance, and one gets the sense that his students sing his praises more out of fear than love. As such, when Argott’s documentary tries to end on a note of triumph, the emotion rings false.

Cast: Asa, C.J., Paul Green, Madi, Tucker, Will Director: Don Argott Distributor: Newmarket Films Running Time: 93 min Rating: R Year: 2005 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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