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:: Rock School

It is sometimes heartening when old world wisdom proves to be correct, such as the chestnut about truth being stranger than fiction. This is nowhere more apparent than in Rock School, an oddball documentary that is so engaging and periodically surreal, that you’d swear they’d made it up. Of course, someone already did with the Jack Black comedy School Of Rock in 2003 in which a failed musician poses as a music teacher in a private school and promptly teaches the kids to throw devil horns and generally rock out in alá Led Zepplin and Black Sabbath. Whether or not the creators of School Of Rock had any idea about Paul Green and his real life School of Rock Music in Philadelphia is unclear and, although the similarities are uncanny, it is their points of difference that makes this a fantastic and very compelling documentary.

Firstly, Paul Green is no Dewey Finn. There is no hero’s journey or moment of triumph, in fact Green, by his own admission, wants to stay exactly where he is. He is the king of the kids; they laugh at his jokes, they listen to his advice and they even tolerate his tantrums. The irony is not lost on one student, the perennially depressed Will, who identifies that Green is a bigger child than any of his students, what he accurately perceives as Green’s “Peter Pan complex.” But this is also Green’s greatest strength; he genuinely loves his job and wants to see his students become the greatest musicians in the world. Sure, usually there is some selfish motivation - one scene shows Green fantasising about a Rolling Stone cover in which he is credited as saviour of rock ‘n' roll - but that would be to undermine the importance that rock school has in the lives of most of his students.

To varying degrees these kids are all social misfits, and the bizarre world of Paul Green must seem like a sanctuary from their normal lives. One of the most hilarious scenes involves nine-year-old twins Asa and Tucker preparing for a concert in which all the students will be doing music by Black Sabbath. As one of the twins gels his hair into a giant Mohawk, their mother carefully dresses the other twin as a miniature Ozzy Osbourne, happily printing O-Z-Z-Y across his fist but drawing the line at the request for a pentagram or 666.

The more talented students are asked to perform in Germany at a festival celebrating the music of Frank Zappa. Notoriously difficult to learn and performing in front of an audience that knows every note, the kids are suddenly thrust into the spotlight. How they react is not nearly as interesting as how it affects Green. He admits that he lives vicariously through his students but rather than their triumphs being his triumphs; you know that he envies and sometimes even competes with them. This is a complex man, not immediately likeable but not exactly a bad guy either. But he is completely unique. And when you’re making a documentary that’s the best subject matter of all.