Rock Camp: The Movie
The brainchild of music producer and former sports agent David Fishof, who started the project in 1996, Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp brings together famous musicians and their fans, delivering cheques to the former and fulfilling dreams for the latter. The camps function as opportunities for mostly wealthy amateurs to play drums or guitar alongside their heroes (or “counsellors”, as they’re officially known). Participants might get a chance to sing vocals next to Paul Stanley from KISS – or they might be stuck with a bassist who plays worse than they do. Everyone pays the same; it’s a fun weekend in Las Vegas.
Writer-directors of Rock Camp: The Movie Renee Barron and Douglas Blush take a brisk and uncynical approach to documenting the ethos, logistics and personal stories of the experience. A quick cavalcade of legendary to semi-famous musicians opens the film, each adorned with helpful captions that remain prominent throughout. Indeed, one wonders how the narrative structure would function without them: as well as providing stimulation for anoraks, seeing the words “Alice Cooper” and “Gene Simmons” provides a visual anchor that is otherwise nonexistent. This is a cobbled-together documentary with little to say beyond its modest, inartistic objectives – to show who and what is in the fantasy camp – and it works fairly well on these terms.
The punters are characterised as neither self-deluded Spinal Tap imitators nor self-serious seekers of artistic redemption. The mundane domesticity of their home habitats is neatly rendered, all through a lens of hyperactive storytelling and frenetic editing. None of these people are particularly interesting, and that’s part of the point: they are enthusiasts with varying degrees of skill.
For the rock luminaries, the camp environment seems to be one of solidarity and self-betterment. The filmmakers have a keen eye for odd details (earbuds, jokes about AA, limitless cups of coffee, and Tony Franklin drinking leaf juice while piecing together a jigsaw with his daughter), but there’s little conventional tension built up in the days leading to the annual show. Strands are picked up and discarded: the fulfilment of a disabled child’s dream is squeezed into the final section; a company vice-president wrestles with anxieties about her singing ability; Fishof mentions aunts he lost in Auschwitz and Buchenwald (a point left without tethering or annotation that jars with the insistent references elsewhere to “camps”).
Rock Camp: The Movie is overall an encapsulation of a distinctly American phenomenon, driven by the forces of self-publicity. Fantasy rock camps have been mocked by the likes of Jay Leno and The Simpsons, and they’ve been used to advertise Citibank. This film is another addition to their PR generator, providing a useful, if superficial, glimpse into the music business’s dream factory. Rock’n’roll is indebted to artifice, and the fantasy camps illustrate the pretence of performance.
Rock Camp: The Movie is released digitally on demand on 16th January 2021.
Watch the trailer for Rock Camp: The Movie here: