Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Pretty much the only film I was remotely interested in seeing in the theater this holiday weekend was the new documentary by filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Brother’s Keeper
and Paradise Lost : The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
) detailing the angst, infighting, and reconciliation surrounding the creation of Metallica’s 2003 album, St. Anger
. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
, is a minor film when compared to the duos other documentaries, but it should appeal to more than just the band’s fans, many of whom were in the attendance this afternoon when I saw the film (me, well, I was never a big fan of the band, even though my high school friends were, and I really haven’t like their music since the 1991 release of their eponymously titled album). While a bit self-congratulatory, the film is a combination of a much more detailed and entertaining Behind the Music
sudser, the film in fact having its genesis as a project for VH1, and a document of the often painful, protracted, and frustrating creative process, something I’m hopelessly addicted to (that would explain my affection for such TV shows as Trading Spaces
and Iron Chef
Taking place over the course of about two years, the films begins with the band at a particularly low point, just after the departure of longtime bassist Jason Newsted. Getting ready to enter the studio to record their new album, the band is basically burnt out and at each other’s throats, especially lead vocalist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, and they are tenuously held together by therapist and sweater enthusiast Phil Towle. Watching these paragons of thrash metal talk in “therapy-speak” is pretty funny (they talk so seriously and solemnly about their personal and artistic differences that one local critic compared the film to This is Spinal Tap
), but things really don’t get any better until well after James Hetfield’s return from rehab for alcoholism, which delayed the completion of the album for over a year, when the band bonds over their collective distaste of dealing with a radio conglomerate (the film clearly positions this sequence as a turning point ). From then on out, the band rediscovers the joy of playing together and creating music, and they regain the ability to work together as a group (actually using the tools provided by their therapist), which of course comes at the expense of their relationship with their therapist, which, as depicted in the film, becomes much less professional and much more ambiguous. Towle becomes something of a everpresent hanger-on, and begins to appear desperate and annoyingly assertive (then again, I’d try to hang on to a gravy train paying me $40,000 a month too), which leads to the bands several attempts to break with him, and I’m not really sure from the film if they were able to or not.
This being a Berlinger-Sinofsky production, the two filmmakers can’t help but be drawn into the film itself, again. Upon Hetfield’s return, he begins to object to the ever intrusive camera and the looming presence of the boom mikes, which leads to a meeting between the filmmakers and bandmembers, all captured on film. Though there is talk of scrapping the film altogether, the meeting ends inconclusively, and of course, the project continues. This scene, as well as later scene where the band discusses the documentary with their lawyer and new bassist (the band decided to buy the rights to the footage from VH1 when they decided to take the project in a new direction, but this is not explicated in the film), kind of parallels the difficult experience of the band creating the album with the filmmakers creating the documentary, though presumably without any internecine fighting. Both are the results of hours upon hours of music and footage, “funneled,” in the words of Lars Ulrich, into a final, coherent product. I’m sure on the DVD commentary, this connection will become much more explicit.