Jack Black’s “School of Rock” teacher can get off the stage. As the spiky and irreverent docu “Rock School” shows, Paul Green is the real deal, a commanding, emotional, expletive-stuffed and vibrant force of nature who runs his Philly-based Paul Green School of Rock Music like an amped-up Vince Lombardi. Irresistibly entertaining and full of unique character portraits of not only the unforgettable Green but of students from ages 9 to 17, this is a whole new take on going to class that will earn fans among critics and auds, boosted by distrib Newmarket Films’ marketing chops.
What Green created in a narrow, red brick building in the late ’90s bears no resemblance to Black’s furtive usurping of a classroom, and filmmaker Don Argott proceeds as if “School of Rock” never existed. Green quickly declares he was born to teach, and, like everything else he does, he says it with total conviction.
Green’s school is a place for serious learning with talented kids, based on an early glimpse of 12-year-old CJ Tywoniak, a scarily gifted guitarist who could accurately be called a prodigy in the Hendrix mold.
Other foregrounded kids include aspiring singer Madi Diaz Svalgard, embarrassed to admit she first came to Green singing some bland Sheryl Crow numbers; Will O’Connor, explaining he was born with an abnormally big head and misdiagnosed as retarded, but who finds friends and a refuge from his dark, suicidal thoughts at the school even if he can’t play a lick; 9-year-old twins Tucker and Asa Collins, who learn to do covers of Ozzy Osbourne while getting enthusiastic support from their mom.
Argott’s agile camera takes on a charmingly antiquated verite style — appropriate, since the docu form is about as old as rock itself — following Green and his kids around the school’s cramped quarters as ensembles at various skill levels rehearse for gigs ranging from intimate affairs to outdoor concerts. When Green’s best group — studying his favorite rock composer, Frank Zappa — is invited to play at the annual Zappanale in Germany, where Zappa tribute bands annually convene, pic reaches a rousing zenith.
Green is no typical rock aficionado nor teacher. He takes youngsters a generation or more too late to have seen Zappa through the rigors of his difficult but delicious music.
Pic captures how hard Green works — at teaching, cajoling, sometimes yelling at the top of his lungs, being a husband and a loving dad. Only late into the running time is his own past, brief career as a rocker recalled, and the past suddenly makes his present efforts unexpectedly touching.
The surefire charmer in “Rock School,” though, is the sight of hilariously little kids banging away on their instruments. Viewed outside the context of Green’s unorthodox pedagogy, these images are no better than any proud parent’s homevideo; but the sheer amount of work and dedication to the rock gods that Argott puts onscreen makes the kids’ performances feel heroic.
Production package with a tiny crew (Argott takes lensing credit) is as solid as Demian Fenton’s editing is taut.