Rock School

(Don Argott, USA, 2005)


An overbearing, narcissistic music teacher. A bunch of kids with raw talent but self-esteem problems. The struggle to reach a big, public event and play a song or two. It is uncanny how closely the American documentary Rock School resembles The School of Rock (2003), the splendid fictional film.

The only difference is that Don Argott's chronicle of the real school's methods does not give off quite the same feel-good glow as Richard Linklater's spirited fantasy.

Paul Green is the mastermind behind this ramshackle after-school centre. Like his fictional counterpart played by Jack Black in The School of Rock, Green berates his kids for liking Sheryl Crow and mocks their religious beliefs (Quakers get a particularly hard time). Having bent these pupils to his will, Green fills them with the fanatical desire to master Frank Zappa songs, thus qualifying for a spot in a band that will travel to Germany to play in a special Zappa tribute concert.

As we watch Green rant and rave, we observe some of the poignant individuals in his care – especially Will, a depressed low-achiever, but often a brilliantly lucid observer of what goes on around him. It is Will, rather than Argott, who seems to grasp what this story is all about: the fragile liberation of potential in young people who meet only oppression in most other areas of their existence.

Although Rock School is often too-loosely structured, and hits a repetitive groove for a long stretch in the middle, it is hard not to be swept up in the fervour of Green's mission. Argott's attempt to present Green as a contented family man is unconvincing; only when he is basking in the praise of Zappa's former musos and bowing to an adoring crowd does this pedagogue of rock seem truly alive.

© Adrian Martin July 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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