Flashback – Interview: Don Argott on “Rock School”

Originally published in the Daily Texan on June 9, 2005.

“Never in a million years when we started out did we think…” Sheena Joyce began to say before her husband Don Argott could abruptly finish that thought, “That we’d be in Austin.”

With the same mix of affection and rock n roll abandon that the wedded pair has for each other, Argott and Joyce directed and produced, respectively, “Rock School,” an appropriately grungy portrait of teacher/entrepreneur/’70s rock connoisseur Paul Green, who opened up a School of Rock in Argott and Joyce’s native Philadelphia for kids to learn the nuances of Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa. And before you ask, Jack Black never taught there. (Mysteriously, VH1, owned by Viacom, who also owns the studio that released the fictional Black film, sent a film crew to tape a segment at the school shortly before a “School of Rock” script was commissioned.)

RockSchoolAfter a year-long tour of the festival circuit beginning at the Sundance Film Festival, “Rock School” is finally digging its spikes into Austin this weekend at the Dobie, though Argott, Joyce and the film’s editor Demian Fenton were in town a few months earlier during SXSW, clearly enjoying the film festival and its location in the “live music capital of the world.”

But despite the trio wanting to take full advantage of the music festival going on at the time, the “Rock School” team was admittedly a little ahead of the curve, already having seen the future of rock musicians in their editing bay, where they watched the overbearing Green mold guitar gods out of little leaguers. Naturally, the only way to capture the experience authentically was of the moment, explains Argott.

“This film really was done very punk rock, DIY,” says Argott. “We did no research. Probably from the time I saw the poster to the time I called Paul to the time I showed up with a camera was a week.”

The resulting film, which took less than a year to complete, unheard of for a feature documentary, feels less like a film than a happening, complete with eclectic characters ranging from C.J., a 12-year-old guitar virtuoso, Will, a confused teen who within seconds of his introduction will discuss his suicidal tendencies, and Madi, a singer with Quaker roots, who is chastised by Green for liking Sheryl Crow. Although Green’s tough love approach translated into both an occasionally unsympathetic lead and an “R” rating for the film, Argott and Joyce did their best to soften the edges by focusing on what all three cared about the most – the purity of the music.

“Music really saved my life,” said Argott. “If I didn’t have music with all the shit that you go through when you’re growing up and being ostracized, it’s one of those places where you can go in your room and put a record on and just be like, ‘Ok, this makes sense.’ It’s really great that all these years later, that we’re all grown up that we can get to reshare that kind of passion and that interest for music.”

He added, “Probably one of my favorite scenes in the film is when Andrea the mom is doing the Mohawk, singing [Black Sabbath’s ode to Mary Jane] ‘Sweet Leaf’ like a lullaby,” said Argott. “I get choked up. I think a lot of filmmakers probably would’ve glossed over that, but that’s beautiful, you know? That’s a beautiful moment.”

There’s many more in “Rock School,” which should be music to the ears of moviegoers everywhere.

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