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School of hard knocks

Documentary looks at Paul Green, who teaches youngsters in Philadelphia how to be rock stars.

June 03, 2005|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

Paul Green, the subject of Don Argott's immensely entertaining documentary, "Rock School," is the real-life version of Jack Black's character in "School of Rock." A talented musician whose career failed to take off, he founded the Paul Green School of Rock Music in Philadelphia, a private after-school program designed to train 9- to 17-year-olds in monster-rock stardom.

Green is a charismatic and complicated figure; as unself-conscious as he is self-aware. His lust for fame unabated, Green dreams of the day in 2007 that Rolling Stone magazine traces all the best new bands back to him; at one point confessing that whenever one of his students surpasses him, "Paul the teacher is happy, but Paul the guitarist is not."

Still, as applied to a bunch of dorky, half-formed kids, his methodology and ideology have the tang of a mixed blessing. The living antithesis of modern American pedagogical practices, Green thinks nothing of routinely unleashing salty tirades on his charges, which include a 12-year-old guitar prodigy, a Quaker folk singer and a death-obsessed bassist who was once described in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer as the school's Eeyore.

Equal parts groovy camp counselor, chalk-throwing, finger-slapping maestro, mentor and tormentor, Green is refreshingly unconcerned with protocol (or litigation) and tyrannically doctrinaire. He has made it his personal mission to drill students in the ways of Ozzy, Zappa and Santana, and wean them of their childish tastes for Limp Bizkit and Sheryl Crow.

He relentlessly mocks Madi, the folk singer, whose father teaches at the school, for having once liked a local Quaker rap group that called themselves the Friendly Gangstas. ("Saturday night we feed the poor," Green raps, for the benefit of the other students, "and Sunday night we feed them some more!")

At the end of the film, Green's star pupils perform at a Frank Zappa festival, the Zappanale, in Germany, and the geezers in the crowd are terrifically impressed. The kids are alright; or anyway, they're exactly what Green himself once wanted to be -- rock stars in 1972. How that will work out for them in 2007 remains to be seen.


'Rock School'

MPAA rating: R for language

Times guidelines: Profanity, some themes inappropriate for young children

A Newmarket Film. Director Don Argott. Producer Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott. Director of photography Don Argott. Editor Demian Fenton. Music supervisor Charles Raggio. Sound mixing Efrain Torres. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

In selected theaters.

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