Growing up, my older brothers lived in the basement. Each of them would take their turn blasting all kinds of music that would rumble the very foundations of that rickety old house on south shore Long Island. Metallica made its impression on me way back in those days. Albums like “Kill ‘em All”, “Ride the Lightning”, “Master of Puppets”, and “And Justice For All”were a staple in our house like the TV Guide is in most others. Fast-forward to 2004, and there’s the new film Metallica: Some Kind of Monster; an extremely gripping documentary that gives us all more insight into the lives of one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time in their darkest hour.
Most documentaries are narrated in some fashion. The filmmaker, or filmmakers has the story told to us over the course of getting major points across over whatever the issue at hand may be, letting us know their stance on the subject. Not here. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky stay clear out of the way. They leave us alone and let us sit back to watch the down in the dumps band rise like a phoenix from the ashes to continue rocking on.
The start of this documentary is right at a pinnacle moment in the band’s collective depression three years ago when bassist Jason Newsted exited the band leaving Lars Ulrich (drummer), Kirk Hammett (lead guitarist), and James Hetfield (vocals/guitarist) in a loss and all collectively in therapy. Dr. Phil Towle guides the rockers towards their ultimate goal of producing a new original album. At first his methods seem hokey, he’s a cookie cutter therapist if there ever was one, but his methods work. The band is collaborating like they never have before, but then it goes all downhill. The recording stops and James unofficially leaves the band for a year, he heads to rehab for his alcohol abuse. Kirk and Lars are left with the burden of what to do now. It’s Phil to the rescue. Which leads to one of the most intense and dramatic scenes I’ve seen put to film this year when Lars is confronted by ex-Metallica guitarist, Megadeth front man, Dave Mustaine.
There is no temp music or score to this movie; Metallica’s recording sessions show off the tension and emotion through their music. It’s as if this is a musical and the origins of their latest album, “St. Anger”, is when they break into song to express their feelings over the current situations. The tie that binds them all is their producer Bob Rock, the man that has been with them from the very beginning. Rock is the very soul of Metallica. He even sits in playing bass for the absent Newsted during recordings and attends every group therapy session with the band mates. He is as much a part of Metallica as any of its musicians are. Finally, we get to truly see that relationship between him and the band. The curtain has been lifted, and the wizard has been revealed.
At the beginning, it does appear slightly that this heavy metal rock and roll group is going soft. They appear vulnerable and human, not Gods of the heavy metal genre. Those elements are what make the overall film that much more powerful. We watch them as low as they possibly can get as a whole and finally collectively rise up over the course of those two and half years. Berlinger and Sinofsky were in the right place at the wrong time for Metallica, but at the right time for us as an audience. From the first little promotional “welcome” for the press to the closing concert, you are sucked in. But as the film slowly comes to a close, Metallica is not soft. They are as hard as they were when they first began. Even to the point that they are fed up with the pointlessness of their forty-thousand dollar a month therapist.
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is how documentaries should be made. It towers over Michael Moore and any of his hidden agendas. The film is a soul-searching journey, that if it were scripted would’ve made some remotely entertaining drama. It is not scripted, this happened. It happened under our very noses and in front of our very eyes, which makes it that much more compelling and powerful to experience.
If you’re not a fan of Metallica, after this movie you will be. If you are, then you’ll want to rush right home from the theatre to pop in and rock out to “St. Anger”; which, by the way, I have a newfound appreciation for. This flick is a must see. Long live Metallica!