Rock School


Rock School Review

Jack Black's wacko substitute teacher/heavy metal proselytizer in School of Rock may understand the primal majesty of a blistering riff, but he has nothing on Paul Green. Green, the founder and frontman of Philadelphia after-school program The Paul Green School of Rock, is a former axe man-turned-music teacher who, every afternoon, teaches 120 boys and girls ages 9-17 how to master the intricate, roaring classics by Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Zappa. A hyperactive mentor with a mouth straight out of The Last Detail, Green molds his students into hard rock disciples through a mixture of rigorous preparation, music history lectures, and profane, demeaning tirades that frequently end with kids in tears. Completely charismatic and utterly insane, he's a divisive subject whose alternately supportive and abusive methods embody distinctly opposing educational philosophies, and he proves the fascinating center of Don Argott's power chord-driven documentary Rock School.

Argott's film charts Green and his students as they prepare for upcoming tribute shows to Black Sabbath and Frank Zappa, the latter of whom is being commemorated at the Zappanale festival in Germany. Yet the tension that arises from these rehearsals is only the documentary's superficial focus; the real spotlight is on the teaching techniques of Green, an out-of-control, narcissistic virtuoso who secretly admits to practicing guitar in his spare time lest his students surpass him in skill, as well as employing "good cop, bad cop" stunts to motivate and inspire his headbanging charges. Extremely uninhibited in front of the camera, Green - a slightly pudgy thirty-something with a slowly receding hairline and a predilection for t-shirts and jean shorts - is a warm, friendly, and funny presence who loves to regale his student body with stories about his personal life and his music heroes, though his kindness is complemented by frequently nasty exhortations to practice more, stop listening to lame music (a problem for Madi Diaz, who arrives at the school with dreams of becoming the next Sheryl Crow) and quit acting like childish brats. At once charmingly funny (describing one student as having "that Chris Robinson, future heroin user look about her") and despicably mean ("I will kill your family," he tells a few unruly troublemakers), he's as polarizing a figure as has been seen in recent cinema.

"I'm probably not qualified to teach," Green admits early on, only to immediately insist "I'm a really good teacher." What Argott's film makes clear is that both statements are equally true. From pint-sized guitar prodigy C.J. Tywoniak (who Green grinningly claims "is going to make us all a lot of money") and suicidal misfit Will O'Connor to Ozzy-imitating nine-year-old twins Asa and Tucker Collins and the oft-criticized Madi, the kids express respect and fear for their instructor. While Green's results are difficult to argue with - especially during the final, show-stopping Zappa performances - it's hard to condone his insensitive and outrageous behavior toward children whose greatest crimes, at least according to the film, revolve around not practicing as maniacally as Green demands. When one boy accidentally looks at his hand while trying to master a song, Green attacks his manhood ("Only girls look at their fingers! Do you want to be in The Bangles?"). And when a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter comes to do a piece on the school, Green inconsiderately discusses his "Will O'Connor Suicide Award" (which goes to the mopiest, attention-craving student) to the chagrin of Will, who correctly labels his teacher - seemingly unwilling to grow up and act like an adult - as having a juvenile "Peter Pan" complex.

Green's hysteria does produce some hilarious quotes ("Don't make fucking mistakes! Not on 'Rebel Yell!'"; "Now we're going to play some Sabbath, and that's no laughing matter") even as he simultaneously fascinates and repulses. Wisely, though, Rock School - unafraid to shy away from its primary subject's maddening conduct but wise to not dwell on it for too long - also focuses attention on the school's endearing musical prodigies. Some, such as the awe-inspiring C.J., are both artistically gifted and articulate about both their rock-god dreams and the benefits of Green's unconventional educational efforts, which appear as harmful to those who don't have futures in rock music (such as Will) as they are helpful to those with legitimate career prospects. Like the amiably superficial Spellbound, Argott's film provides frustratingly little insight into the kids' various family lives - while a few parents get screen time, there's a dearth of footage concerning the students' home environments and other interests. And as a result, Green winds up receiving the only fully three-dimensional portrait. Yet this one off-key note is largely drowned out by Rock School's frequently hilarious, sometimes galling portrait of one man's attempts to uphold, and pass along to future generations, the flamboyant, ferocious, innovative spirit of classic rock.

Free bird!

Rock School

Facts and Figures

Run time: 93 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 7th July 2005

Production compaines: 9.14 Pictures, A%26E IndieFilms

Reviews 3.5 / 5

IMDB: 6.5 / 10

Cast & Crew


Producer: , Sheena M. Joyce

Starring: Napoleon Murphy Brock as Himself, Asa Spades Collins as Himself, Tucker Collins as Himself, Madi Diaz-Svalgard as Herself, as Himself, Will O'Connor as Himself, C.J. Tywoniak as Himself

Also starring: