- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

Don Argott’s documentary “Rock School” picks up where the fictional “School of Rock” left off. Fans of the Jack Black comedy of 2003 will recall that Mr. Black’s character, an unemployable guitar-slinger, started a real music school in order to teach young people the ins and outs of rock musicianship.

However, Paul Green’s School of Rock Music, where first-time director Mr. Argott spends a revealingly entertaining and raucous 90 minutes, was actually open for business in Philadelphia before Hollywood clued into the scene. He’s since gone national, establishing branches as far away as San Francisco and turning his classes into touring outfits.

Mr. Green, the school’s founder and chief instructor, is about as rich a character a documentarian could hope to come across. He’s quintessential Philly — a blustery, foulmouthed, cutoffs-wearing, lawn-chair-lounging everydude. But he’s also an agile wit, charismatic and fiercely driven.

And he’s quite open about the fact that he hopes his students, age 9 to 17, go on to rock stardom and reflect some of their future glory back onto him, or at least his school.

Is rock stardom a worthy goal? If so, at what cost? These are questions “Rock School” implicitly raises, but not, thankfully, to the point of spoiling the well-deserved celebration that is the movie’s ending — the students’ triumphant performance at a Frank Zappa festival outside of Berlin.

Wait a minute. Did I say Frank Zappa?

Yup.

And I already know what you’re going to ask next: How does he expect his students to become rock stars if he has them slaving away on oddball obscurities and insanely syncopated workouts such as Mr. Zappa’s “Inca Roads”?

Good question. The simple answer is, Mr. Green is an idealist. A blustery, foul-mouthed, cutoffs-wearing, lawn-chair-lounging idealist. He wants his students to actually learn how to play their instruments, not just pose with them.

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, who was asked in an interview on CNN this week if he wanted his children to follow in his footsteps, said, “I’m all for them wanting to be musicians, but I have a certain amount of ambivalence about them wanting to be rock stars.”

Mr. Green sees it differently. Not necessarily because he, an accomplished guitarist and ex-longhair, never got to taste the fruit of fame. He’s married, has a young son, and seems at peace with his anonymity (although this movie might change that).

He views his students, mostly misfits in their civilian lives, as having a chance at self-mastery. They’ve never been challenged before, and, because of “fear and laziness,” they never excel. What they need to do is turn up their lives, as well as their amps, to 11.

The shock and, from where I safely sat, the hilarity of “Rock School” is seeing just how Mr. Green challenges them. Like a Teutonic taskmaster, he screams, he belittles, he practically tears his hair out to get his students to practice, practice, practice. His policy toward even the most unpromising of students is “No child left behind” — except that he’s brutally frank about whose chops are the most proficient.

Mr. Argott focuses on a handful of the children and finds compelling side stories. The most dramatically interesting were Madi, a feisty Pennsylvania Quaker, and Will, a depressive teenager who articulates the fraternal appeal of Mr. Green’s rock school as well as its personality cult aspects. The mother of young Black Sabbath-loving twins Asa and Tucker is Sharon Osbourne’s ideal stage mom.

At its subtlest, “Rock School” shows a slice of working-class America that saw celebrity as a way out of mundanity and found things even better: a sense of worth and an unlimited creative outlet.

Would that there were more Paul Greens in our classrooms.

****

TITLE:“Rock School”

RATING: R (Profanity)

CREDITS: Directed and photographed by Don Argott. Produced by Mr. Argott and Sheena M. Joyce. Edited by Demian Fenton.

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

WEB SITE: www.rockschoolthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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