Film Review: “Rock School”

Few are immune to the allure of performing in a rock ‘n’ roll band: the blinding lights, the roar of the crowd, the sweet after-parties. Sure, it takes years of hard work and slogging on the road to achieve this success, but many willing to try. Of course, few succeed.

Then there are the kids from The Paul Green School of Rock Music. There is no need to couch it in any other term: these nine to 17-year-olds rock, and they rock hard. There they are, pounding drums, shredding guitars and slamming into the stage like, well, full-grown rock stars.

The school, founded in 1998 in Philadelphia, is doing remarkably well, with branches opening across the country including locations in Hell’s Kitchen, Austin and Portland. It is no coincidence that these openings are occurring simultaneous with the release of a documentary “Rock School” (Newmarket Films).

“(Paul Green) advertises his shows in the Philadelphia area by putting up these great posters,” director Don Argott said. “They’re really amazing and if you really love music, they’re really hard to miss, (with kids) doing the music of Zappa, The Who and Led Zepplin. One day I was walking into work and I said, ‘You know what, I gotta find out what this school is all about.'” That night, he and producer Sheena Joyce went to see the students perform.

“Probably like five minutes into it, after seeing C.J. – the little kid in the film – has was just doing this amazing guitar solo, and I said you know, whatever we have to do to make this film happen, we just have to do it,” Argott said. “I set up a meeting with Paul (Green) the next day, we hit it off and the day after that I showed up with a camera and we shot for nine months.”

“Rock School” focuses on a few specific students, but no character is more compelling than Green himself, alternately red faced with anger and sweet in his parental gestures toward his young students. He’s a polarizing character, but as Argott points out, “People really seem to respond to him as a character. And ultimately, I think the verdict is out, whether you love him or you hate him. You know, he is a very charismatic subject matter. It’s really hard to keep your eyes off of him.”

As for the film’s similarity to Jack Black’s 2003 film “School of Rock,” Joyce said, “We started this project and we were probably four or five months into filming before we heard that Paramount was putting out a film with a similar subject. If anything, it’s going to help us, because it’s a reference point for people. Yeah, that film is out there, but we’ve got the real thing.”

The film reaches it’s triumphant climax when the students are invited to perform at Zappanale, a Frank Zappa festival in Bad Dobern, Germany. They are the youngest crew there by far, but manage to rock the living daylights out of some 5,000 hardcore Zappa fans.

“These kids really did transform themselves and got to another place, musically and emotionally,” Argott says proudly.

Newmarket Films picked up the film for distribution last June during the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival. It will be released nationally April 15.

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