Rock School Movie Review
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.