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Rock the Bells (2006)

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An inside look at what it took to bring the Wu-Tang Clan together for their final performance at the Rock the Bells Hip-Hop festival.

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Credited cast:
D.J. Abilities ...
Himself (as Abilities)
Babu ...
Himself - Dilated Peoples (as D.J. Babu)
Jerome Baldwin ...
Banger ...
Himself - Manager
Himself - Wu-Tang Clan (as O.D.B.)
Cappadonna ...
D.J. Choc ...
Himself - D.J. (as Mr. Choc)
Davey D ...
Himself - Journalist
Himself - Public Enemy (as Chuck D)
Inspectah Deck ...
Himself - Wu-Tang Clan
DJ Dice ...
Dilated Peoples ...
Nader Elwan ...
Himself - Brian's Assistant
Eyedea ...


Rock the Bells is a documentary on the preparation and realization of the original Wu-Tang Clan's final live performance. The film focuses on hip-hop concert promoter Chang Weisberg, whose Guerrilla Union production company showcases live hip-hop of a noncommercial bent. Weisberg comes across as a mixture of fanboy and snake-oil salesman, but it is his attention to detail that allows him to undertake what no other promoter had managed to accomplish in a long time: the presentation of the complete original lineup of the Wu-Tang Clan in live performance. Using a small, cohesive team of immensely likable, pleasant people, Weisberg navigates all the pitfalls of his endeavor with composure, even when the concert is in full-throttle. Hours before the concert is supposed to begin, the Guerrilla Union crew is forced to contend with an incompetent security team, an overanxious crowd on the verge of rioting, and the singular mania of the now deceased Ol' Dirty Bastard, in what amounts to a ... Written by Matthew Lehrer

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A tribute to the spirit of Hip-Hop.


Documentary | Music



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11 April 2007 (USA)  »

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User Reviews

Not just for hardcore rap fans
29 August 2006 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Rock the Bells is a documentary about festival producer Chang Weisberg who goes all out to re-unite the nine members of the infamous rap group, Wu-tang Clan. This is music from the ground up: the musicians, promoters – everyone involved – are very grass-roots without any big commercial machine to ensure success. Their thousands of fans inhabit a world that is a wide gulf away from anyone who can't listen to a rap song without worrying about the 'tune' or lack of it. As with the early genesis of many music cultures, the music has not only to speak for itself, but to do so against all odds, against the ingrained prejudice of the established industry and views of the mainstream community, and against the hubris and lack of business sense of many of its stars. But dreams always start larger than life, and they need to be extremely big to stand any chance of filling an enormous stadium at between $40 to $80 a ticket. They also need to be more than wishful thinking – Weisberg has re-mortgaged his house at one point to set things up.

There are a number of obstacles to make a film such as this so that it can appeal to people unfamiliar with (or have no interest in) the type of music under consideration. The storyline needs sufficient human interest; there must be at least some insight provided so non-devotees can relate to the art-form; it has to be coherent enough not need specialised knowledge to follow it.

For Chang Weisberg, it is a labour of love. His manner and style is more accessible than the rappers who, especially off-stage, can affect so much dialect as to be near incomprehensible. His belief in the project helps to spark interest. His wife hopes it goes well, remembering how they lived with his mom for ages. We sense she would casually prefer not to go bankrupt but, whatever happens, she is 100 per cent behind her husband's mission. Whether the film helps non-devotees understand rap is more debatable (bearing in mind that, as it will mostly attract fans, this is not an absolute requirement). Emotional insight was provided in the mainstream 8 Mile by building crucial elements of the storyline into the rap contest, allowing viewers to see that rap was about realism and poetry rather than songs where the words were relatively meaningless to a singer's life. Rock the Bells tries rather to let the lyrics stand on their own merit: an aggressive song called 'Makeshift Patriot,' if not fully comprehended, at least conveys a tangible sense of anger and political insurrection. One shortcoming is that, in nearly two hours of sampling of the music and surrounding culture, there is little to counteract a commonly prevailing mainstream notion that rap music is sexist, racist etc-ist: the lyrics, like those of many early folk singers, are written in the dialect and from the social viewpoint of the subculture from which the music springs. Elements such as gun culture, police oppression, the ability to obtain work easily, take on a different context, as do slang words which, in mainstream culture, would be considered rude or offensive (strangely enough, making the film potentially unsuitable for white middle class children as opposed to their underclass counterparts). This is an important area, especially as it causes rap to be feared and denigrated by those who misunderstand it.

As an achievement of film-making, Rock the Bells is a deceptively polished work, capturing not only the build-up to a major music festival but also the chaos that ensues (and is eventually skilfully controlled) from inadequate (low-paid) security, ignorance of logistics, and fans kept waiting for three hours and exhibiting less than dharma-like patience. The tension is red-hot as, with the assembled throng straining at the gates, it is not even definite if the headliner will appear.

Rock the Bells is also a historic performance, being the last performance of a particularly revered performer, Ol' Dirty Bastard. Perhaps this alone will ensure it is preserved until a day when a wider range of filmgoers will appreciate and enjoy it.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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