Rock the Bells



Seventh Art Releasing

NEW YORK -- Sort of a less tragic hip-hop variation of "Gimme Shelter," "Rock the Bells" is less a concert film than a behind-the-scenes music documentary chronicling a nearly disastrous show. Revolving around the 2004 daylong music event that marked the last performance of the fully intact Wu-Tang Clan, the film is at times nearly painful to watch in its detailed depiction of show business chaos.

The central figure of Casey Suchan and Denis Hennelly's film is music promoter Chang Weisberg, who mortgaged his house to finance his dream of a hip-hop summit in San Bernardino, Calif. Although the show included such critical favorites as Jurassic 5, Sage Francis, Dilated Peoples and other acts, the real stars were the reunited Clan, including former member Ol' Dirty Bastard, who had recently been released from prison.

Unfortunately, the show is beset with problems that nearly resulted in rioting by the frustrated, heat-stricken fans. These include the performers' constant demands for "herb"; sound system failures; security problems and hostility from the local police; self-indulgent performers who fail to hit the stage on time or stay on for too long; and so on.

Promoter Weisberg, aided only by a bare-bones staff that includes his mother, aunt and wife, desperately tries to keep things together, at one point inducing his family members to squirrel away the boxoffice receipts under the cover of towels.

Adding even more drama to the proceedings is the question of whether the clearly damaged Bastard will even make it onto the stage for his group's performance (he would die of an overdose several months after the show).

Hip-hop fans might be frustrated by the film's relative paucity of actual performance footage. But for connoisseurs of stories of show business near-disasters, "Bells" is compelling viewing.
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