Richard Linklater's 2003 neo-classic vehicle "School of Rock" appeared to be only a flickering figment of rock fantasy. What a surprise it is then to find that a school for rock education truly exists. "Rock School" (IMDb listing) is a new documentary that ventures into the halls of the cramped school and meets the man behind the madness: Paul Green.
Green, a doughy, thunderous former professional musician with a vivid vision of himself, is the ringleader of this Philadelphia-based school and, heavens, the man loves his music. Lording over his small band of students with oily glee, Green is a slippery character, and documentarian Don Argott clearly enjoys just sitting back and letting the teacher take over each sequence with his natural hurricane-like personality. Green is a fascinating character to witness as he rants and raves around the building, swearing like a sailor (which is why this harmless film has an unexpected R-rating), alternately building up and tearing down his students' self-esteem at a moment's notice. "Rock" notes that Green's temper is erratic and often mean-spirited, which is illustrated in many scenes featuring Green berating, insulting, and, in one small moment, hitting his students when their playing fails to please him. The mostly teenaged student body claims they love his methods, and that they're learning from his aggressive leadership, but those sentiments are delivered in a slightly bewildered, abused housewife tone that suggests there's more to the story than anyone is willing to say.
In Argott's attempt to piece a story together, "Rock" liberally steps over some nagging subplots, including one whopper that finds Green the subject of an unflattering newspaper profile. The fall-out from this piece is never known, nor are Green's reactions to the writing. Instead, Argott goes to suicidal (as he'll remind you over and over), underachieving student Will for a reaction, who offers nothing but rambling teenage musings on realities he doesn't clearly comprehend. Argott also attempts to find a dramatic arc for the film when the students are invited to a German Frank Zappa festival to play. The last third of the picture is devoted to this event, and while it provides some solid proof that these kids are incredibly talented and can swim with the sharks, it feels like a tacked-on achievement, and it ends strangely (or characteristically) with Paul front and center on stage for no good reason.
"Rock School" is a great opportunity to watch some fiercely talented kids struggling to make themselves even better. A standout is CJ, a wannabe guitar god who possesses chops better than most working musicians today. A film highlight is watching this pre-teen take on Van Halen's cover of "You Really Got Me" and run with it.
As entertainingly loopy as he is, Paul Green's camera-aware personality just doesn't capture the imagination the way raw talent can, and "Rock School," for all its good intentions, can only manage an entertainingly superficial look at this institution and the man who keeps it going.
Filmfodder Grade: B