Review: Rock the Bells

The resolution of its subjects—both on and off the stage—succeeds in keeping it as potent as one of ODB’s classic rhymes.

Rock the Bells
Photo: 7th Art Releasing

Like the recent Air Guitar Nation, Rock the Bells’s homespun documentary aesthetic evokes a DVD special feature more than an actual film, its multiple narratives often tangentially divergent and only incidentally related, while its sparse and scattershot interview segments suggest material culled together from less than optimal filmmaking conditions. A key difference between the two films, however, is that while the former attempted to channel its slice-of-life musical observations into a narrative arc that betrayed its subject’s unique qualities in the name of surface-deep drama, Rock the Bells remains steadfastly attentive to the unfolding conflicts it captures. Chronicling the efforts required to organize, promote, and execute the infamous Rock the Bells concert in July 2004, the film illustrates not only the allure of and passion aroused by musical spectacle (the concert was the first in many years to successfully reunite the Wu-Tang Clan and was ultimately the group’s final performance before the death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard later that year), but illustrates through passive observation the capability of hip-hop to speak to political oppression and counterculture values. Tedious early scenes detailing the organization of the concert as a thankless passion project are given added weight when the much-hyped event finally unfolds, the potency of the rhythmic performances in the midst of failing equipment and overwhelmed security guards suggesting a perpetual battle for higher ideals amid the rancor of a capitalist society. If the film feels plagued by a lack of focus and relatively limited scope, the resolution of its subjects—both on and off the stage—succeeds in keeping it as potent as one of ODB’s classic rhymes.

 Cast: Chang Weisberg, Carla Garcia, Brian Valdez, Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, Dilated Peoples, MC Supernatural, Sage Francis, Eyedea, Abilities, Chali 2na, DJ Numark  Director: Denis Hennelly, Casey Suchan  Distributor: 7th Art Releasing  Running Time: 103utes min  Rating: NR  Year: 2006  Buy: Video

Rob Humanick

Rob Humanick is an assistant projectionist at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater in Lehighton, Pennsylvania.

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