METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER
Formed in 1981 and the most successful heavy metal band of all time, Metallica enter the studio in 2001 to record its first album of original songs in five years. Rocked by the departure of longtime bass player Jason Newsted and troubled by internal conflict, band members Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett enlist performance enhancement coach Phil Towle to conduct group therapy sessions during recording. Documentary makers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky chart the band's personal confrontations and creative conflicts during the two-year recording of the No 1 album "St Anger".
Review by Richard Kuipers:
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Rock'n' roll turned fifty this year and for almost half that time Metallica have been the masters of a style considered by many as the mongrel form of popular music. I'd still rather listen to the complete works of Metallica than five minutes of Phil Collins or Celine Dion, but no matter where your musical preferences lie Some Kind Of Monster is approachable because it places personalities in the foreground and uses blasts of metal music to propel the drama from one eye-opening scene to the next.
With only Penelope Spheeris' The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988) serving as any kind of precursor, Some Kind Of Monster gives us an amazingly honest account of creativity and conflict in the rarely glimpsed realms of headbanger headliners. Critical to the success of this documentary is an opening sequence in which the questions of journalists at a press junket are rapidly edited together.
Imparting a great deal of information about the band in such a short amount of screen time, this gives audiences a crash-course in Metallica and establishes a clear understanding of the characters and issues at stake. Comparisons with the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap (1984) are inevitable as we witness these 40 year-old musicians undergoing group therapy sessions with performance enhancement coach Phil Towle.
The very idea seems comical and there's no shortage of amusing moments as these 40 year-old teenagers begin to grow up in public, but more notable is the depth of emotion revealed during these soul-searching sessions. The conflict between drummer Lars Ulrich and vocalist James Hetfield is the compelling axis about which events revolve.
No fiction writer could have better conceived their forceful personalities and to make the dynamic complete, there's guitarist Kirk Hammett acting as "the quiet one" in the middle. Some Kind Of Monster contains any number of memorable moments, including an amazing "let it all hang out" meeting with Dave Mustane, who formed Megadeth after being sacked from Metallica twenty years previously and bluntly tells his former colleagues about having to live with the "loser" tag ever since. The documentary also brings into focus heavy metal as a business and how it connects with its fanatically devoted and predominantly working-class followers. Scenes in which the band appear at "meet the fans" days and a performance at San Quentin prison tell us that, like hip-hop, there is very little social separation between the artists and their followers. You can believe it when Hetfield says he'd probably be in San Quentin if it weren't for his music.
In the best tradition of observational filmmaking, co-directors Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger have produced something neither anticipated when they began shooting in January 2001. What started as a straightforward "making of" look at the new Metallica album has been transformed into a riveting account of mid-life crisis and creative uncertainty in a musical act veering dangerously close to self destruction. The trust they engendered during a long and unpredictable shoot inhabits every frame and makes this one of the most surprising and riveting documentaries in years.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Never even a solid rock n'roll fan, not even in my teens, it's not too big an assumption that heavy metal is not my thing. But I've never totally blocked out any musical style, in the sense that in the right circumstances, I'm open to being introduced to any genre and its unique appeal. That's not the intention of this doco, but it is one of its side benefits; I'm now better informed, and being better informed, I'm ready to accept heavy metal as valid music. Well, at least Metallica's.
This may have something to do with the fact that I had a bit of an epiphany near the end of Metallica, when the title of their latest album, St Anger, was born. I recognised a parallel that exists between the backdrop for all good comedy being anger (or pain) and how anger is also a positive force, when it comes from a type of positive energy, as Lars Ulrich, of all people, articulates.
And I say of all people because it is Ulrich who emerges from the film as the quarrelsome and complicated angry young man, despite having the most middle class lifestyle, complete with a sensational art collection which is auctioned by Christie's for millions as part of the film's document. His personal assistant - a heavy metal drummer with a delicate male personal assistant is another revelation - explains why Lars is selling: the old stuff (includes a couple of Basquiats and Pollocks) is from the past decade, he needs a new type of collection for the next decade.
These are some of the many insights that make this film such a pleasure for anyone interested in the conflicts and complexities of human nature. It will blow apart any preconceptions you may have about metal musos, except perhaps the one about them living to excess. But it's only after coming back from the brink of self-extinction that the band rrrealllly cooks, which is when they hit the chart jackpot with St Anger, which made its debut at No 1 in 30 countries. Maintain the rage, indeed.
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JAMES HETFIELD INTERVIEW
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER (M)
CAST: Documentary featuring Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Bob Rock, Phil Towle, Robert Trujillo, Lars Ulrich, Torben Ulrich, Dave Mustaine, Jason Newsted,
PRODUCER: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
DIRECTOR: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
SCRIPT: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Wolfgang Held, Robert Richman
EDITOR: Doug Abel, M. Watanabe Milmore, David Zieff
MUSIC: Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Metallica, Bob Rock, Lars Ulrich
PRODUCTION DESIGN: N/a
RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 16, 2004