Rock the Bells (2006) Poster

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Not just for hardcore rap fans
Chris_Docker29 August 2006
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.
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One of the best documentaries on any subject.
dirtdingus22 November 2006
Masterful documentary.

I saw Rock The Bells in Cardiff, Wales during our annual Film Festival and the crowd(who were a fairly mixed crowd of ages and cultural backgrounds) were eating it up. I love the movie and i can't wait for the DVD!!! Extremely exciting. Extremely funny. Extremely visceral- you can't help but empathise with Chang and Carlos's exasperation with the talent. Fascinating for anyone interested in concert promotion, the Wu-Tang or Alt-Hip-hop. Of all the reviews - i concur most with Craig Mathison's for The Age, Ausralia.

One of the best movies i've seen this year.
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michael-bordieri-118 June 2006
"Rock the Bells" plays out with an almost Shakespearean flow, from it's tantalizing rising action, to its satisfyingly refreshing denouement. A documentary that follows Chang, a concert promoter, who aims to assemble one of the best hip hop concerts of all time, "Rock the Bells" achieves what many documentaries are incapable of doing: showing the participants as living, breathing men and women who actually endeavor to accomplish something. It not only documents the final time the entire Wu Tang Clan performed together, but also shows an inside glimpse into their private, and little-mentioned family lives. With its crisp filmaking, excellent producing, and flawless editing, "Rock the Bells" proves itself to be one of the best documentaries, if not films, of the year.
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Officially Two Thumbs Up
realitycompany3 April 2007
I saw this movie today at the Widwest Independent Film Festival, and I was blown away. The most exciting documentary i've ever seen, not only about hip hop, which isn't really what it was about, but more so just in general, I have yet to this date seen a documentary quite like this one. This will have you in the edge of your seat, guaranteed. Everybody in the audience, rather black, white, latino, Asian, 20 years old to 80 years old, was laughing and crying and leaning forward all throughout the movie. This is truly a historical piece, considering it is the last time Wu Tang Clan ever performed together on stage with all original members... If it were up to me, i'd have this movie release in 4000 locations, but unfortunately, its not. Sage Francis will tell you that in the movie himself.

Officially, I give this two thumbs up! Only part I don't like is the fact I only have two thumbs.

-Helton Sales Siqueira, aka Brazilionaire
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Most Exciting Documentary I've Ever Seen
Mysteriam5 April 2007
I was not familiar with the Wu-Tang Clan prior to this screening, and I'm only tangentially interested in hip hop culture, but after seeing this I have respect and awe at how strange and powerful the rap world can be. People love this, and now I see why. More important than turning me onto the music, though, was the film's impression to me of the humanness of rappers. I usually notice only how scary or self-aggrandizing they're trying to be, but we get to see their relationships with their children and friends in Rock the Bells. If you have a chance to see this in a theater, TAKE IT. I laughed harder and longer about this than any comedy flick in recent memory. And I was literally on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what happens next. A great movie.
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Now here's a f*cking movie
blasterxmaster6 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Now here's a f*cking movie. Chang Weisberg is one part devoted hip hop fan, and three parts sh*t talking concert promoter, constantly working everyone, even/especially his sweet wife. And he's got this concert series in California called Rock the Bells. In 2004, Weisberg was organizing a big show in San Bernadino, and once he had a handful of Wu Tang MCs booked, he decided to attempt the impossible, and get all nine official members AND EVEN CAPPADONNA IF YOU CAN BELIEVE IT on the same show. The piecemeal way Weisberg went about it became a problem, actually. Despite the groundbreaking way the RZA had the first Wu Tang contract structured — everybody in the group was entirely free to sign solo deals with whatever label they chose — the RZA insists that all things Wu Tang Clan, the collective, go through him. But the RZA came on board, and even ODB was out of prison and seemingly ready and willing. He was of course a complete f*cking wreck, mind you. It's more affecting than you might even think, seeing ODB six months before his death. There's just nothing left of him here. Interestingly, they maintain the absolute fiction that ODB came up on welfare and whatnot. His dad worked for the Transit Authority, and his mom was a police dispatcher. That's solidly middle class. Why perpetrate, ODB? We would have loved you anyway.

As we get closer to the date of the show, it starts to look less and less likely this is going to work at all. And the day of is just a complete sh*t storm. Now, unlike you, I foolishly bought Disciples of the 36 Chambers: Chapter 1, the baffling ordeal of a live album and DVD taken from the Rock the Bells performance. So I came into this movie knowing full well that the show went off; that Dirt just sits there on a monitor singing along to the tracks where he really shouldn't, looking like he'll be dead in a week instead of six months on, and then absolutely rips his verses; that there wasn't a riot despite Weisberg's sh*thead decisions to oversell and understaff the whole operation. But the movie is so incredibly tense that I started doubting all of that. Is this maybe a different concert? Wouldn't I know about it if the Wu had played a concert a couple summers ago that ended in a riot? I'd have heard that, right? But sh*t did not look good, friends. MC Supernatural looking out with absolute horror over the crowd when it looked like the Wu might not take the stage almost convinced me that I have some other record.

On Supernat: come on, man. He gets his son on, and his ten year-old son's supposedly freestyle flow is absolutely unreal, and Supernat goes, "That's my son! And that's freestyle! He didn't write any of that! And I don't help him with it!" Sure, Supernat. Sure. As Stinkin' Rich said years ago, the line between the freestyle and the premeditated is blurry at best, and crossed more often than you might think.

Moving on: aside from Supernatural, whose performance is entirely fine, and who is really very winning throughout the movie, you get performances from Dilated Peoples (not really to my taste, the Dilated Peoples); Chali 2na and DJ Numark (can I just say: for all that I never ever ever listen to my J5 records, their show — sans Cut Chemist, who I believe is now just plain out — at the Kraut in Toronto a couple years ago was fantastic); Eydea and Abilities (hilarity ensues when Abilities' set-ending turntabalism just . . . won't . . . end . . .); the always entertaining Redman; and Sage Francis. I've never seen Sage live, because he didn't once come to Toronto in my five years there, but he came to Halifax in that time, and my brother saw him. I think it was at the Khyber. And he hated that show. Now, my brother has a legitimate beef with the Khyber that I don't necessarily want to get into here, but which made me think maybe he was predisposed not to particularly enjoy his evening there. But I couldn't really account for not just his dislike of the Sage Francis show, but his absolute seething rage at the thing. Having seen Sage perform in Rock the Bells, I know understand completely. Don't get me wrong: I think Sage is great. A Healthy Distrust was a great record, one of my favorite from the year (last year?) that is was released. But never have I seen someone so bait and antagonize his own audience. I won't even try to describe it. It simply must be seen.

Saw Rock The Bells at Atlantic Film Festival - from theratio dot organization
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An engaging and entertaining documentary
santegeezhe29 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Rock the Bells is an engaging and entertaining look behind the scenes at the Wu-Tang Clan's final performance with all the original members, including most infamously, Old Dirty Bastard. The film focuses mainly on the events leading up to the actual concert - the organization (or lack thereof), the backstage shenanigans, the chaos, etc. I was actually amazed by how chaotic the entire affair turned out to be, not to mention the complete ineptness of the promoter/organizer. Evidently it's something of a miracle that the concert occurred at all, or at least that no one was seriously injured, killed or otherwise bodily harmed. Between the equipment failures, security snafus, and understaffed/oversold conditions of the concert, this film makes for some serious edge-of-you-seat action.

As for the music itself, the entire raison d'etre of this fiasco, it turns out to be largely disappointing. The highlight is most certainly rapper Supernatural's performance, wherein he proves that he can freestyle about anything; in this case, random items handed to him from the crowd. There's also some touching performance footage of him and his young son.

As for the Wu-Tang Clan, sadly there's no performance footage to be seen, other than a brief clip at the end with voice-over narration. A tad disappointing to a Wu-Tang fan, but luckily the rest of the film makes up for the disappointing conclusion. All in all, 7 out of 10.
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If you like good movies, see this one
catsaxbe7 May 2007
I'm hardly a hip hop fan but I do enjoy a kick-ass documentary and a great story with energy, so this is a movie I will be recommending to people for sure. The footage of the frantic backstage preparations, the rowdy fans, the freaked out party promoter, the musicians on all their own strange trips and, best of all, the freestylin' Supernatural, make this film a rush for everyone, whether you are into hip hop or not. The footage contained is well-chosen and high-energy and the interviews peppered all through the developing story of this wild night are funny and endearing and flesh out the characters well. There is also edge of your seat drama and many tense moments in the unfolding tale of a near disaster, but ultimately a satisfying climax.
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A Concert Movie Without A Conert
Jake-Lemkowitz18 April 2007
How has nobody mentioned the fact that this is a documentary about Wu-Tang concert, yet you never get to hear any of Wu-Tang's music or performance? The filmmakers didn't get the rights. So after two hours of waiting on edge and hoping for the concert to happen, you don't get to hear a single moment of the actual show! What a rip-off!

The people who have reviewed this movie must really not care at all about Wu-Tang or know who they are. How can this film deserve rave reviews? A doc about a concert needs to have concert footage of the main act to deserve five stars. Rock The Bells was one of my most unsatisfying movie-going experiences in recent memory.
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