'Rock School': Plenty of Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 3, 2005

Paul Green seems like every parent's worst nightmare.

As a teacher, he berates his kids with profanity-and-spit-laced diatribes. In order to coax more effort out of his students, he at one point threatens to tell the story about how he lost his virginity, an episode, he says, marked by the smell of nicotine and whale oil. "Do you love Satan?," he asks one underperforming child. All of which is okay, I guess, considering that what he's teaching is rock 'n' roll, and not reading, writing and 'rithmetic. And considering that at least half of what he says is tongue in cheek, and that the results of his unorthodox academic methods are, to say the least, inspiring.

Green, you see, is the proprietor of the Paul Green School of Rock Music, a Philadelphia after-school music education program for 9- to 17-year-old aspiring rock performers that is the subject of a fascinating and funny documentary by Don Argott. Sometimes described as a real-life version of "The School of Rock" (except for the fact that those kids could already play their instruments and that was a PG-13 movie), "Rock School" is half about Green, a foul-mouthed guitarist who turned to teaching after failing to make the big-time, and half about his young charges, some of whom will knock your socks off and some of whom are just plain adorable. Of particular note is C.J. Tywoniak, a pint-size guitar player whose scorching performance at the 2003 Zappanale, the annual German music festival honoring Frank Zappa, is the film's highlight.

You can't argue with success, as they say, and the fact that Green's program is able to produce players like C.J., whose chops on "Inca Roads" not only wow the Zappanale audience but former Zappa band member Napoleon Murphy Brock, says a lot about the effectiveness of Green's tough-love pedagogy.

It's funny. Green, who himself acts at times like an overgrown child, says that one of his goals is to give children a work ethic, to make them "not be children." But children, probably more so than adults, need some reassurance that they're not screw-ups. So the scenes of Green lavishing affection on his charges under the closing credits go a long way to rounding out this entertaining portrait of a volatile but effective educator.

Rock School (R, 93 minutes) --Contains drug references and torrents of obscenity. At the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle, Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema and the Cineplex Odeon Shirlington.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company