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This is probably the first documentary about Metallica that didn't make
you feel good. All of the older documentaries show a band that was
personable and fun-loving, rocking like no one else can. They showed us
the Metallica we were proud to call ourselves fans of. But with Some
Kind of Monster , we see a band full of weather-beaten rock stars,
burned out (an understatement), tired, desperate, and aggravated. It
broke my heart to watch this, but it was a damn fine documentary.
Frankly, I'm glad this was released. Because the average semi-informed fan of Metallica (like myself), has only seen the headlines over the past ten years - which served to make the band look like they were becoming complete pricks. I love Metallica. But the wall of negative stuff that was thrown at us in the past decade has tainted our view of the band. This documentary straightens some of it out. While I don't believe that was the goal of the film, it is a fortunate side-effect.
I know the Metallica of the 80's is gone - beer flying, 9-minute epic metal songs, and the long hair - but hopefully, our favorite rockers still have the fire within to bring us a few more great albums. Metallica showed the world that heavy metal (and I mean *heavy*) didn't have to use gimmicks and make-up to be mainstream. All it needed was the right attitude and talented musicians to play it. I've seen them live nearly 20 times. Nobody can do it like Metallica. Nobody.
I saw this film at the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri, and
was fortunate enough to hear some Q&A from the director
The two words that best describe Some Kind of Monster are "brutally honest." This is a no-holds-barred look at a band that has played together for two decades and is on the verge of disintegration from internal conflict, external pressures and creative stagnation. We see the members of Metallica not as icons, but as flawed individuals in a close, but often tumultuous relationship that has lasted longer than many marriages. At a fundamental level the seem to love each other, but as with many long-term relationships, they sometimes reach the point that they cannot stand the sight of one another.
Can they survive? Well, the mystery is obviously abated by knowing how the story ends (the production of the album St. Anger and the subsequent tour); but it in no way detracts from this interesting examination of the process of separation and reconciliation.
Central to the story is not only tension the band members experience in once again trying to bottle the lightning of musical success, but the fundamental changes taking place in James Hetfield's life as he enters rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction. While Hetfield's personal battle takes place off-screen, we see the powerful impact it is having on the rest of the group.
Some truly standout moments include the interaction between Lars Ulrich and his father Torben (an amusing and brutally honest character); the long-delayed meeting between Lars and Dave Mustaine (who was kicked out of the band in the early 80s and went on to found Megadeath); a long band meeting which consists mainly of screaming obscenities; the band's search for a new bassist; and the almost surreal scene of Hetfield attending his daughter's ballet recital.
If you wish to see the members of Metallica as icons, then Some Kind of Monster is probably not for you; however, if you would like an up-close view of them as very real human beings, then I highly recommend this film. Love them or hate them, you will bring something away from Some Kind of Monster.
I don't know how they do it, but although Metallica lost me as a fan
many years ago (sometime in the mid 90's), they still manage to release
DVDs that are totally intriguing. "Cunning Stunts" was an intense
concert movie that let you feel the energy of a Metallica gig, where
even songs from "Load" and "ReLoad" sounded good. Now, "Some Kind Of
Monster" is something even more special. Really special. As far as rock
films go, this one is right up there with "The Kids Are Alright" and
"The Last Waltz".
Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky are always there in time to catch the most important facial expressions, quotes and actions. The movie almost runs too perfectly, as if the whole thing had been scripted. The emotions of the band members and those around them seem so genuine, though, that it's hard to have any doubts about the movie's authenticity. It must have been a terrible stressing for the band - especially in a situation like this - to have cameras around them all the time. Throughout the whole movie you feel like you're in the room with one of the biggest rock bands on the planet and the cool thing is, that you really get a look behind the image, behind that Rock 'N' Roll dream. What you find are three guys that are just as unsure about themselves, their friendship and their career as everybody else is. Hetfield, Hammett and Ulrich try to be honest throughout the whole documentary and everybody comes across as a more or less normal person (Ulrich and his ego are more than just a bit annoying, though, and it's sad to see that the band still doesn't seem to have the tiniest bit of respect for their former bandmate Jason Newstedt, who had to put up with a lot of crap for almost 15 years). A whiny appearance by former band member/Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine sticks out as the most moving/funniest moment. It really must suck to feel like he does, regretting everyday that you've been kicked out of one of the biggest bands on earth. Respect for such an honest statement in front of the cameras, though.
"Some Kind Of Monster" entertains for more than 120 minutes (and there's more on the DVD) without ever getting boring. The weird thing about this documentary is, that it's never about the music, but more about the process of a band recording itself. Whoever said that this one is a must see for Metallica fans, documentary fans and anyone in between got it right. It's more than your usual VH1 special. This one REALLY takes a look "behind the music" and a very exciting one at that.
First of all, let me say I'm a Metallica fan so this review is
unevitably biased. But then again, what review isn't? We all know
Metallica are great business men, so the first question that arises is:
is this movie a marketing tool? Even though I'm sure the movie will be
a commercial success, my answer to the question is no.
Metallica's record company wanted the movie to accompany Metallica's 2003 release St. Anger as a weekly series of 30 minute reality TV to get the word out about the album. Metallica not only rejected that idea, but even decided to buy out the record company and release this a year later as a movie instead. We can only thank them for it.
This movie is certainly not a commercial for Metallica. We get to see the ugly side of Metallica. And it's ugly alright. We see Lars calling James a dick, shouting 'fuck' right in his face and getting drunk while selling his millions of dollars art collection. We see James yelling at Lars, slamming the door, checking in for rehab and after that demanding everyone to only work from 12 to 4. We see Kirk being a sissy the entire movie.
The title of the movie refers to James; he explains how Metallica has been a beast to him over the years. But Metallica has undoubtedly been a beast to others as well. Dave Mustaine is one of the most successful musicians in heavy metal with his band Megadeth, but apparently is still haunted by him being fired from Metallica. Nevertheless, the movie is ultimately about James' 'coming of age', changing from an angry alcoholic to a man who has managed to balance his personal life with the life in Metallica.
I have one beef with the movie. Around the end Lars says Metallica have proved that it's possible to make an angry record through positive energy. While I believe him when he says that, I do have to say I hardly saw any of that energy in the movie. In fact, it's a small miracle they managed to finish the album at all.
Even though not everyone is a fan of Metallica, I can recommend everyone to see this movie. See, this movie is not about the music. It's about people. People who struggle with themselves, with each other and with the outside world. It's also a unique look inside the workings (and non-workings) of a world class band and into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. This documentary is a landmark that upstages the album which creation it was originally supposed to document.
I am a huge fan of early Metallica. They lost me, though, on the Metallica album (the black album, the first sign that they were turning into Spinal Tap). While this documentary is great film, I have to say that it just makes clear that Lars and James are utterly devoid of humor when it comes to themselves. At the film festival screening the theatre was filled with laughter as they revealed themselves to be petulant children who have a long way to go to reach maturity. Poor Kirk and the new guy, Rob Trujillo. There were only two times when Lars spoke really honestly in a way that didn't seem manipulative, and James never gave up anything real except when he was with his kids. The $40,000 a month counselor (he is not a trained psychiatrist or psychologist) was right out of Spinal Tap. FYI- the biggest cheers erupted after every Jason Newsted interview because he is just straight up, real, and honest. I wish him a lot of success because he seems to truly be all about playing music. Believe me, I applaud Metallica for being willing to let people see this truly great film, but as for Lars and James, lighten up for crying out loud. Therapy isn't only about expressing your feelings and expecting everyone to pat you on the back, it's also about learning to admit when you're wrong or being a jerk and laughing at yourself.
Being the most famous and popular of heavy metal bands, with 90 million
albums sold over the past 20 years, Metallica has not exactly gone
unchronicled, uninterviewed, or unfilmed. The 1992 "A Year and a Half
in the Life of Metallica," which covered the making of the huge 'Black
Album' and the band on tour, included a lot of traumas, a lot of talk,
a lot of spine-tingling, brain-damaging music -- and was four sometimes
numbing but compulsively watchable hours long.
"Metallica: Some King of Monster," commissioned by the band, which weighs in at a mere two-and-a-half hours, may have set out to be the same kind of thing. It begins with a new, minimal studio set up in the San Francisco Presidio for the group to start recording after a long dry period, and it looked like it was going to be another album-plus-tour documentary.
Metallica is the quintessential primal scream rock band, whose throbbing, doom-ridden songs sound powerful enough on recordings, but played for an audience of a hundred thousand standing and shouting in unison take on the quality of absolutely cosmic. . .throbbing. . .noise. But this aspect of the band is only glimpsed in the new documentary because it turns out to contain more therapy and less music than any rock doc you've ever seen before. "Some Kind of Monster" is chiefly valuable for the insights it provides into the zillion-dollar band's tormented but ultimately self-healing group dynamic. The music doesn't seem to matter much any more, not in this film anyway.
Once the new studio is set up Danish-born drummer and bandleader Lars Ulrich and lead vocalist and songwriter James Hetfield (the band's founders) are immediately locking horns. As the earlier doc ("A Year in the Life") shows, it's not the first time, but at this late stage in their career their creativity seems blocked by the hostilities. A fancy group therapist from Kansas City named Phil is called in, a guy who's previously been hired to reconcile the giant battling egos, we're told, of baseball superstars. The band pays Phil $40,000 a month for many months for his pains. The presence of Phil seems to trigger an awareness in James that he isn't enjoying the band, or his life, any more, and the solution is that he needs to get off the sauce. He disappears and goes into rehab at an 'undisclosed location.' Only the lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett, remains in touch with James, who stays away for a solid year. Kirk may be peaceful he's usually neutral in the ego clashes of James and Lars -- but he has a sensitive, suffering face and he too briefly spars with the often bossy, irritating Lars -- over whether or not he can solo.
Kirk says he has labored to shrink his ego. He has taken up surfing and given up drugs and alcohol to surf better. We see him enjoying the peace of his ranch in northern California. Lars, on the other hand, likes to unwind in those nasty little pocket speedboats, and his awesome house is full of great modern paintings including a splendid Basquiat, a Pollack and a number of Dubuffets. Later he sells the key paintings toward making a "new start" (what that means isn't spelled out) and these gems sell for $5 million at Christie's.
During the enforced down time of James's absence there are demons for Lars to wrestle with. Jason Newsted, who came in to replace the band's much lamented original bassist Cliff Burton after his tragic death at twenty-four and was with Metallica for fourteen years, has just left over an exclusivity conflict, and his smaller band turns out to be active and popular, while Metallica is dormant, perhaps moribund. Lars's ego sinks to near zero. The band wins its lawsuit against Napster for allowing free downloads of their songs, and the result is a backlash of group album burnings by outraged fans that makes Lars declare himself 'the most hated rock musician in the world.' We get a glimpse of Lars' interesting, feisty father, a former tennis star with a long gray beard, who for a moment seems as intrusive (and pretentious) as Yoko Ono with the Beatles. But father and son have a good relationship, as the touchy-feely Phil points out, while James's parents split when he was small and his mom died when he was sixteen.
James's return is a huge relief and the first studio sessions are a brief second honeymoon. A rough period follows and the doubts about whether this is still a band return. Lars is angry at how James has dominated the band passively by his absence and now in recovery insists on working only from noon to four. Lars takes a while to stop sulking. Eventually the musicians get back in "the zone" -- though therapist Phil's use of that term is unpopular with the guys and as much as they've relied on him as a shaman and father, they decide to phase him out a process he does not adjust to easily. Who would want to give up $40,000 a week for being in the room?
They audition for a new bassist, and Lars, James, and Kirk are unanimous in liking Ozzy Osbourne's goofy, gnarly giant Robert Trujillo, and give him a million-dollar welcome bonus. With a group so swimming in money as Metallica, it almost seems chump change.
When the album's done the ever-talkative Lars says "we've proven that you can make aggressive music without negative energy." The footage contains many cathartic, healing moments among the members. The band had always eschewed tights and stuff like that and just dressed like any band. Now they appear convinced that their music doesn't need inner darkness, drugs or booze to engender macho power. Is that true? The members of Metallica do seem healthier and clearer. James's recovery has been contagious. But flashback clips show that in James's earliest boozer days, with original bassist Burton, the two tall virtuosos with their sweeping hanks of hair had a youthful shock of aggressive energy these forty-somethings couldn't hope to muster and neither Lars nor Kirk were ever anything but softies anyway. Especially for heavy metal bands, the darkness -- not to mention the immaturity -- seems an essential element.
With James in recovery, it may be no surprise that the "St. Anger" album bombed with critics. But this film doesn't mention that fact. It doesn't mention a lot of things. It's just about what happens in the studio or in public appearances. It covers some painful, revealing moments, but doesn't show anything about the musicians' private lives or the other people they work with and live with, except for a couple glimpses of James's and Lars's cute little kids.
"A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica" probably told us more about Lars, to a fault, as well as about the recording process. "Some Kind of Monster" focuses on James Hetfield. But the seamlessly edited new film is just another case of competent documentarians who got a little lucky. It's basically a promo film, and not the masterpiece that some are claiming, though it may be better than the "St. Anger" album it's about.
The debate over whether or not Michael Moore's `Fahrenheit 9/11' should be
called a `documentary' won't be heard hovering around Joe Berlinger and
Bruce Sinofsky's (`Brother's Keeper,' `Paradise Lost') `Metallica: Some
Kind of Monster' because it is a documentary, an accurate rendering of the
rock group's long struggle to create its latest album, `St. Anger.'
Although sex and drugs play no role in the film and the groupie adulation is
almost non present, making even the most out-of touch viewer skeptical, the
battle of frontman James Hetfield with alcohol and the group with
dysfunction has the feel of authenticity. We are left with a business
partnership reviving its product.
By engaging `performance-enhancement coach' Phil Towle for $40,000 a month, Metallica puts its money where its mouth is-a serious effort to preserve the magic of a group that sold 90 million albums, so much a product of delicate personality bonding that the full time therapist had a real challenge to preserve the indefinable chemistry. Beside Hetfield's demons, drummer Lars Ulrich's Napster battle takes energy from the group, so Towle is probably a small investment in its survival. If heavy metal is not your thing, seeing this group psychodrama would be worth the admission.
Not seeming to fit the overall clinical activity of the film is a scene of Ulrich selling his art collection. Critic Ed Gonzalez gives an insightful explanation:
`There's a moment in the film where Berlinger and Sinofsky force a fascinating correlation between the paintings that hang in Ulrich's home and the music the band makes, calling attention to the relationship between art and the spectator and the way that art is consumed. This scene has absolutely nothing to do with the psych sessions between Metallica and Towle, and it's a great one.'
This kind of organic unity makes it a documentary of artful proportions. I still prefer classical and folk music, but I have to admit to a new interest in a musical genre I can share with my musician grandson Cody.
In 2001, the most successful Metal outfit of all time are teetering on the brink of a creative and personal s**tpit. Longtime bassist Jason Newstead has just quit, relations between the band are at an all-time low and, under pressure to deliver their first studio album of original material in years, 'St. Anger', the group have hired a therapist to help pull their plectrums out of their asses. What better time or what worse to invite the cameras round? For the next three years? Therapy, one feels, has gone to their heads. Even if you loathe Heavy Metal (especially if you loathe Heavy Metal) there's loads to enjoy here: from Oasis to Spinal Tap, everyone loves rock stars having a ruck, and Metallica rarely disappoint. Wince! As drummer Lars screams in singer James' face ('All these rules?! This is supposed to be a rock 'n' roll; band!!'). Gape! As they ponder whether 'guitar solos are outdated'. Boggle! As Lars' funky Danish dad Torben, resplendent in a long white beard and druid's staff, like something out of Tolkien, informs his son that their new music 'doesn't cut it'. Guffaw! As their therapist, resplendent in an ever-expanding range of lurid pullovers (so that's where his massive salary's going) nods politely along throughout, like a disco dad.
Unable to speak from a non-fan's viewpoint, I want to say how moving
and inspiring I found this film to be.
With almost too many highlights to mention, the crew skip from one uncomfortable situation to another on a gradual path to equilibrium. The claims of unintentional laughability are ridiculous, I read a couple of review that compared this to Spinal Tap, which I found very annoying. Anyone who laughs at this film is doing so because that's the way that some people deal with being uncomfortable. It is a funny film but only when it's intentional. A very skillfull piece of comic direction comes to mind, Hetfield talking about his crazily painted car, interspersed with clips of him driving along at a million miles an hour, "I like speed", he says and then in the next cut we see him pulled over by a policeman. One of a few comic highlights.
The documentary follows Hetfield's trip into rehab, the preceding argument with Ulrich contains one of two Ulrich highlights, "you're just acting like a dick today". Hetfield's re-emergence from re-hab is when the film really gets into gear. He becomes almost like a rock star version of Jesus, totally unaffected when confronted with a stream of abuse from Ulrich, "when I went running today, I thought about seeing you and just thought "fuck"", he sits there motionless. He talks about his emotions and goes to his daughter's ballet recital. The band seems fractured at this point but then along comes, in my opinion, the highlight of the film. Asked to record a soundbite for some radio stations they find themselves unable to do it because it is so tacky and they begin to joke around, "Enter now and we'll shove $50,000 dollars up your ass," Ulrich jokes, "One bill at a time," Hetfield retorts. In this scene, we once again feel the combined unit of Metallica against the world like the way it used to be and this is the turning point of the movie. Along the way we meet a number of interested characters, Ulrich's father with his snowy white beard for one. And we meet Dave Mustaine, who is not exactly the epitome of rock 'n roll either. The film spirals towards a denouement in a packed arena, what the band has been waiting for, the band arriving, a new unit, embracing each other like brother, waiting to go onstage, The Ecstasy Of Gold blaring in the background and then Hetfield racing on stage and shredding the first chords of Frantic. It seems that only real life produces the kind of chills that any Oscar contender could only dream of. What a film. A profoundly moving experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really enjoyed this film. I'm a mild Metallica fan (I went to one of
their concerts but never bought any albums), and this movie definitely
caused me to become a lot more of a fan. It was totally fascinating in
its depiction of the creative process, when it works and when it
doesn't. It was so awesome to see these famous people depicted as
normal human beings. I never would have guessed that Hetfield and
Ulrich had such issues. They're both control freaks and they should
just realize that and figure out a way to work together without butting
heads. (Although by the end, they did kind of figure out a way.) Seeing
the way they fought, I was surprised that the band has been together so
long. Probably there were tensions building for a long time, which
finally came out before the movie started because of some unnamed
reason - maybe they were finally starting to grow up and realize that
Metallica might not be the be-all and end-all for the last half of
Amazing to see how it was all breaking down, before Hetfield went into rehab. They've been such a successful band that I would have thought their creative process was locked-in and running smoothly. But they're just humans, like all of us. I thought their humility in letting this psychological stuff be shown in the movie made them seem like even better people. Yeah, I know Hetfield's and Ulrich's egos are big as houses, but they let the filmmakers show them at their worst, and that takes guts.
Commentors keep saying Kirk Hammett was shown to be a wimp in this movie. Quit being so f***ing macho! I thought he was totally cool. Not everyone is a control freak like Hetfield and Ulrich, and in comparison Hammett looked mild-mannered and agreeable. What's wrong with that? The band is lucky he wasn't another huge ego like the other 2 - THAT would have made things really difficult! Plus Hammett's a total babe.
Another commenter said that he/she would have liked to see them talk more about why they loved heavy metal, and I would have, too. I don't think they're self-aware enough for that though. They did get more self-aware about their feelings about *each other* during the course of the movie, but they didn't talk much about the creative process. The creativity the movie did show was fascinating. Heavy metal seems to be, at least for Metallica, an expression of deep psychological wounding, and for them to open up all those wounds (they definitely didn't heal everything in the therapy they got) and heal them might have been detrimental to their creative process, in the end. What would they have to rage about, if it all got cleaned up? Some others writing here have cynically suggested that the band was just trying to create another popular, lucrative product, but I don't agree. I saw them struggle mightily to create music that was gripping, intense, and an expression of their feelings. I see that as their passion.
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