3 stars (out of four)
"Making-of" films have a glorious history of heroic impediments to be overcome: the boat in "Burden of Dreams," Marlon Brando in "Hearts of Darkness" and in "Rock the Bells," a recalcitrant Bastard. "Bells," a documentary opening Saturday at the Gene Siskel Film Center, is a flat-out stunner that combines a celebration of hip-hop culture with a disaster film.
A 2004 onstage reunion of the legendary rap nonet Wu-Tang Clan was almost sabotaged by its most beloved member, the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, who refused to attend--and his mates wouldn't go on without him. Add a screaming, over-capacity crowd jammed into a 100-plus degree arena, tension, a lack of security and broken equipment, and you have high drama.Riot? Concert? Plus or minus Bastard? It's safe to say that when wide-eyed promoter Chang Weisberg decided to reunite the Wu-Tang Clan--the Beatles of rap music--for his Rock the Bells festival, he never anticipated the ensuing mess.
The Wu-Tangers hadn't been on stage at the same time in years, and Weisberg, like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland saying, "Let's put on a show," wanted it to happen at his Rock the Bells festival. He schemed, cajoled, dreamed and mortgaged his house for an event that nobody believed he could pull off.
"Rock the Bells" opens at the show's post-mortem, with Weisberg talking about "people at their worst," and saying "we had a very detailed plan and they didn't follow it." That's hip-hop. The film doubles as a Weisberg showcase and behind-the-scenes Wu-Tang primer, and excels at both. Like the Rolling Stones' Altamont documentary "Gimme Shelter," you know something great is going to happen, unless someone is killed or maimed first.
We roll through a venue fire, malfunctioning equipment and inept security. Fans, tired of waiting for entry, pushed through the gates, found their way backstage and chaos ensued. But still, everything was working until this: "ODB is cracked up and he can't walk."
Negotiations are tense. Weisberg even suggests wrapping the rapper up in a hotel sheet and bringing him to the venue. Group frontman RZA is on the phone, begging ODB to show, and the room is a pin drop from going up for grabs, until the ultimate triumph.
"Rock the Bells" is high-flying documentary at its finest. As Weisberg said of the Wu-Tang Clan, "they're heartbreakers." And right up until the movie's dramatic "rescue" scene, you think Chang is right. It all comes together in the end, and the only pity is that we see none of the Wu-Tang performance.
'Rock the Bells'
Directed by Casey Suchan and Denis Henry Hennelly; photographed by Jeff Bollman and Leif Johnson, Suchan and Hennelly; original music by J Force; produced by Kurt Dalton and Henry Lowenfels. An Open Road film; opens Saturday at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Running time: 1:43. No MPAA rating; parents cautioned for language.
Features Chang Weisberg, the Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, and performances by Dilated Peoples, Sage Francis, Chali 2NA and DJ NuMark, Eyedea and Abilities and MC Supernatural.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times