So here’s another cinematic chicken-and-egg conundrum.
Besides “Lords of Dogtown,” the fictionalized version of the skateboarding documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” we also have “Rock School,” the documentary version of the Jack Black comedy “The School of Rock.”
Director-cinematographer Don Argott doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of Richard Linklater’s likable 2003 feature about a substitute teacher who instills in his young students an appreciation for Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.
But comparisons are inevitable, whether or not Paul Green of the Paul Green School of Rock Music in Philadelphia — “The best (expletive) music school in the city! On the East Coast!” if he does say so himself — was the inspiration behind Black’s character.
Whereas Black ranged from impishly subversive to single-mindedly manipulative in his quest to form a mini-rock band, Green is a tyrannical megalomaniac.
He acknowledges, “I’m probably not qualified to teach,” then proclaims, “I’m a really good teacher,” before berating his students — aged 9 to 17 — with profanity-laced verbal smackdowns that reduce some of them to tears.
“Don’t (expletive) make mistakes!” he screams at a boy playing drums during rehearsal, the veins popping out of his neck as his face reddens.
Argott seems to be in love with Green as much as Green is with himself, and devotes giant chunks of time to the longtime guitarist aping for the camera, ripping into his students (though it’s often in a joking way) or sitting in his backyard, philosophizing and referring to himself in the third person.
But he can also be candidly insightful, as he is when he reveals that Paul Green the musician sometimes feels threatened by the talent that Paul Green the music teacher has fostered in his students.
He’s absolutely right to fear them — some of these kids are scary good, and Argott’s film truly comes alive when he lets them show what they can do.
Guitar prodigy C.J., for example, makes Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” look as easy as breathing or walking down the street. At 12, he has the confidence of a seasoned pro with the idealism and work ethic of an up-and-comer.
Madi — a teenage Quaker from rural Pennsylvania — cringes at the memory of walking into Rock School doing covers of Sheryl Crow tunes, but by the end of the film she straps on a guitar, opens her mouth, and this huge, mature voices comes bursting forth.
Precocious twin brothers Tucker and Asa Collins — whose mom is so supportive, she encourages them to crank it up to 11 when they practice at home — are clearly nervous during their first big performance of Black Sabbath songs. They mess up the words. They have zero stage presence.
Then Green launches into a tirade backstage during intermission — “You let ’em see you sweat tonight,” he tells all his kids. “(Expletive) them, (expletive) you” — and magically, Tucker and Asa are transformed into charismatic headbangers for act two.
You can question Green’s methods, but you can’t question his dedication — or the startling results he’s achieved.