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Music DVD Review: Rock The Bells

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Written by Caballero  Oscuro

In 2004, a scrappy concert promoter named Chang Weisberg set out to pull off a seemingly impossible feat: a live performance by all members of the hip-hop super group, the Wu-Tang Clan. The Clan ran nine deep at the time plus 10th associate Cappadonna, and due to their successful solo careers, various touring schedules, and always outrageous behavior of mercurial member Ol’ Dirty Bastard (aka ODB), the odds of success were extremely low. Further complicating matters, the scheduled Wu-Tang set was part of a large festival bill presented at a non-dedicated concert venue, creating a huge infrastructure set-up nightmare. Somewhere along the line, someone had the crazy idea to capture all of the chaos on film before and during the show, resulting in this completely riveting documentary.

Make no mistake, this is not a Wu-Tang concert video. In fact, there’s not even any Clan concert performance footage in the documentary. Instead, this is the story of how Chang planned the massive Rock The Bells production and cajoled all of the members to attend. The film shows Chang at work in the preproduction stage, discussing the show’s plan with civic leaders, arranging for security, and lining up his formidable talent roster. It also shows him and his crew at work in some street-level promotion, dodging cops to blanket the area’s lightpoles with posters. While the planning footage is interesting, it drags on a bit too long as we anticipate the main event, the actual day of the show.

To pull off his impossible dream, Chang attempted to book all of the Wu-Tang members individually as solo artists. Once he had them all signed, he floated the idea of the group performance to the Wu-Tang don, the RZA. RZA keeps tight control of the Wu-Tang brand and was initially miffed that Chang tried an end-run to deviously set up the group show, but finally came around when he realized what a historic and special event it could be if successful. Unfortunately, the recently paroled ODB continued to live up to his reputation as the biggest wildcard, exhibiting his usual erratic behavior as he kept promoters and his Wu brothers wondering whether he would actually show up. As usual with the Wu, nothing is ever certain until they actually set foot on stage, so no amount of planning could accurately predict the final outcome.

The documentary includes limited concert footage of some of the other main acts on the festival bill, including Redman, Dilated Peoples, and the completely bizarre Sage Francis. It’s all laced into the larger context of the behind the scenes action, as viewers see the escalating insanity at the crowded gates and the complete breakdown of security measures backstage. As night falls and the line grows with increasingly unruly fans upset about the hours-long wait to get in, as well as the densely packed heads inside the venue, the film begins to feel like war footage, showing an escalating mob ready to descend into total anarchy at the slightest provocation. This dizzying chaos captured live from within the fray helps to set the film well above other docs that can only recount events with historical photos, and gives viewers a true taste of the maddening yet euphoric experience of this monumental show.

The double-sided DVD contains a plethora of bonus footage from the show as well as additional background information on the Clan and now-deceased ODB. It’s not clear why it took three years to reach store shelves, but it’s still completely relevant and engaging material. The DVD is now available, check your favorite retailer for additional information.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
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