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Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster (DVD review)
Directed by Joe Berlinger/ Bruce Sinofsky
Dan Schneider

The documentary film Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster is an example of a not so good piece of art about a subject that is not so good. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Metallica fan, and not one of those morons who refuse to grow up and believe their early thrash songs that sound all alike are somehow artistically superior to their later songs with melody and lyrics with a little more depth.

It’s just that while the filmmakers and band members hoped to do a film of ‘great depth’, which the commentary tracks harp on, the truth is that the members of the band are unwittingly close to the Spinal Tap territory inherent in any such venture. Basically, after bassist Jason Newsted left the band in 2001, over artistic differences, lead singer James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich warred for control over the band’s future, while lead guitarist Kirk Hammett pretty much sat on the sidelines. Eventually, the band hired a $40,000 a month counselor named Phil Towle, not even a real shrink, to tell them things that any twelve year old could figure out.

  Hetfield is an addictive sort, whose terminal machismo landed him in rehab, after doing a Ted Nugent impression, by going to kill bears in Siberia, the bleating over missing his son’s first birthday, Ulrich is an artistic poseur, truly befuddled at the supposed ‘meaning’ of gold trim in terrible Basquiat paintings, which he later sells off for several million dollars, and asking such probing queries as ‘Where does art begin? Where does it end?’
Hammett simply doesn’t know how to cope with either, in between vacuously staring in camera and declaring himself egoless. Add in do-nothing producer Bob Rock, for what would eventually become their St. Anger CD, and the makings for a great comic film are there, in spades. Unfortunately, the filmmakers Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger (of the Paradise Lost documentaries) missed the boat, and took this bleating of fortysomething, over-the-hill rock stars seriously, whereas Newsted- apparently the only well balanced member of the band- calls it for what it rightly is: bullshit. The only other well-balanced person seems to be the bassist hired to replace Newsted, Rob Trujillo, who comes off as sincere, and a bit overwhelmed by the whole nonsense of a therapist.
Towle, meanwhile, comes off as a total idiot, leaching onto the band for his sinecure, handing out song lyrics to Hetfield, and even considering himself so vital to the band that he plans a cross-country move for his family, utterly showing no real priorities in his own life.

There are numerous ridiculous scenes that do nothing to dispel the idea that rock stars are deluded individuals so used to having their asses kissed that they cannot act in the least bit mature. They set about to do a new album in the Presidio in a participatory way, unlike the former days when Hetfield and Ulrich ran the show. Unfortunately for this idea Hammett is devoid of ideas- his lone foray into something mimicking depth coming in a mealy-mouthed defense of guitar solos, a point upon which he loses anyway. Then, Hetfield goes off for nearly a year’s worth of rehab, while Ulrich battles Napster and becomes the most hated man in rock and roll. Hammett chills out on his ranch, and then we meet Ulrich’s eccentric Danish dad Torben- a clueless man with a long beard and a cowboy hat, whose knowledge of rock music, while limited, seems to impress his son and Towle - I’m serious. The scene is ridiculously hilarious because Towle is so impressed that this man, who could very well be someone you stepped over on a warm street grate, is Lars’s dad. It culminates with the dad ripping into the new music that record executives think is great. Dad says to ‘delete’ it.

Later comes a scene with former Metallica lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was fired in 1983, and formed rival thrash band Megadeth. While Hetfield’s in rehab Dave and Lars have a warm moment with a therapist, just two days after 9/11. Yet, there is something very contrived about this moment, and in the commentaries and bonus features we find out that Mustaine later objected to the editing of his interview as showing him in a negative light, as if he defined his life by his being kicked out of the band. Nothing more comes of the scene, and any resolution is left hanging. As are Hammett and Ulrich when Hetfield returns from rehab with a dicta that says he can only work four hours a day, yet tries to control what Ulrich and Rock do with material after he’s gone. Hetfield even wants to can the film, but relents after the filmmakers show him footage. Yet, here is where the documentary is no more. There has been a break into the documentary aspect by the filmmakers, and some of the later scenes, where Ulrich screams FUCK in the face of Hetfield, have a forced quality, as though the band members are now consciously playing for the camera. They then hire Trujillo as Newsted’s replacement, and eventually finish the album and go on tour.

Through it all there seems to have been a war between Rock and Towle that is shortshrifted. Towle comes off as being as unstable as Hetfield and Ulrich, for once Hetfield leaves rehab his role is done, yet he hangs on till the band axes him, in another scene that feels too pat, and staged. Thus, the film ultimately fails, despite its great potential. Many reviewers call it honest, but a closer look at it shows only manipulative, immature men (both in the band and not), who probably are even far more fucked up than the film admits. Evidence of this comes from Ulrich’s ridiculously overboard crowing that the band proved that aggressive music can be made using only positive energy. Exactly, where was he during the recording of the album? That someone can still be so clueless, even as the opposite is documented on camera is where the Spinal Tap moments shine. I’ve not listened to St. Anger, but know that while it did debut at #1, as the film admits in the end, it was a critical bomb, a fact the film avoids.

The band’s commentary track adds nothing, and is punctuated with pregnant silences, and the filmmakers also are utterly empty of any depth, for nothing they’ve done filmically stands out, and they admit as much in their commentaries- that they got lucky that their wishes for conflict were answered. This is because the band seems to be running on fumes, and are no more ‘healed’ at the end than they were at the start. In fact, who could really be ‘healed’ by a charlatan like Towle? Rock music, especially heavy metal, is a young man’s game, and without that fire you just have unintended parody. In ten or twenty years, when all the band members are bald and fat, will they then be whining of something else? Probably, but hopefully they will have documentarians clued in enough to see the humor in such things as Hetfield’s clichéd AA regimen - which they, on their commentary describe as being the most amazing filmic transformation ever recorded - huh? Does their list of watched films extend beyond Hanna-Barbera? In short, the film is competently made, but ultimately empty and silly, with none of the resonant depth of true rockumentaries such as Gimme Shelter or Woodstock, due to its Oprah Winfrey level simplemindedness--
© Dan Schneider, July 2005
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