By Alex McPherson
“Rock Camp: The Movie,” directed by Douglas Blush and Renee Barron, remains charming in-the-moment, but disappoints upon further reflection.
The film centers around Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, an annual event in Las Vegas where ordinary folks can jam out with famous musicians. “Camp counselors” include Paul Stanley, Roger Daltrey, and Nancy Wilson, among many others. Once paired with a counselor, campers practice tunes together until their miniature bands perform at the end of the week.
The camp was created by David Fishoff, a former sports agent turned music promoter who helped create Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band. An eccentric, bubbly individual, Fishoff loved hanging out with rock legends, and he was inspired to let others share in that thrill. Thus, in 1997 Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp was born. After an, ahem, rocky start, it eventually became a cultural phenomenon, even acknowledged by “The Simpsons,” “Bones,” “Ellen,” and “Pawn Stars.”
Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp has delighted attendees year after year ever since. The spirit of collaboration and shared love of music is infectious. Sign up today, if you have several thousand bucks to spare! Indeed, “Rock Camp: The Movie” reminds me more of an advertisement than anything else — albeit an especially heartwarming one.
At least Fishoff’s intentions are admirable. There’s joy to be found in watching fans live out their musical fantasies, and “Rock Camp: The Movie” is often touching in this regard. Viewers see a young musician with autism embracing his passion for guitar; an ISSM network specialist finally being recognized for his skills as a drummer; a guitarist experiencing the camp with his son who has brain damage; a realty trust controller learning how to sing professionally — everyone finding joy through participation in the camp. These stories are resonant, to varying degrees, targeting larger truths about art’s power to heal, inspire, and bring people together, even though the campers’ privilege shows.
When the focus shifts away from the campers themselves, “Rock Camp: The Movie” becomes considerably less compelling. Watching rockers such as Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons, and Tony Franklin describe the camp’s significance to them lacks impact. Sure, fans will likely get a kick out of seeing genre legends reflect on how the camp reinvigorated their lives. Coming from someone with little knowledge of who these people are, on the other hand, I found listening to them reminisce becomes somewhat repetitive by the film’s conclusion, and the life lessons they impart of pursuing one’s dreams aren’t especially remarkable.
Additionally, the documentary depicts the proceedings with rose-tinted glasses and only spotlights those with positive stories to tell. Having all these personalities interacting would inevitably result in some sort of conflict, right? Viewers are left with a relentlessly upbeat film that provides plenty of warmth and wholesomeness, but feels too sanitized for its own good. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of the attendees, and it’s a shame that “Rock Camp” doesn’t mine more emotion from the event itself, coming across as a bit self-serving.
Similarly, although the film’s editing doesn’t do much to distinguish itself, “Rock Camp: The Movie” unfolds at a breezy pace, capturing the idiosyncratic nature of many of its subjects, as well as campers’ excitement and nervous anticipation.
Perhaps the film would have benefited from focusing on a single group of individuals from day one, allowing us to spend more time with them while providing a clearer throughline leading up to the final night of performances.
Above all else, however, Blush and Barron’s documentary feels like a beacon of sunshine through the darkness, and that alone warrants a recommendation. “Rock Camp: The Movie” is a shallow yet uplifting slice of entertainment that accomplishes what it sets out to do without reaching #1 in the charts.
‘Rock Camp: The Movie” is a documentary written and directed by Douglas Blush and Renee Barron. Run-time is 1 hour, 27 minutes, and it is not rated. Available Feb. 16 as a video on demand. Alex’s Rating: B
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.