Metallica: Some Kind of Monster [DVD]
Director : Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2004
Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have a way of making something extraordinary out of virtually nothing in their documentary films, and one has to wonder if the metal band Metallica had an inkling of this when they asked Berlinger and Sinofsky to film them cutting a new album in early 2001. The relationship between the filmmakers and the band dates back to the early 1990s when Metallica agreed to let their music be used in Berlinger and Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), which began as a routine documentary about the murder of three 7-year-old boys in Arkansas and eventually turned into an incisive exposé of prejudice and justice gone staggeringly wrong.
In 2001, as Metallica headed back into the studio to record their first album of all-new material in five years, they asked Berlinger and Sinofsky to film it, with the idea being that the footage would be used for promotional purposes. It should have been a two-month gig, but it turned into a two-and-a-half-year ordeal during which the band lost bassist Jason Newsted after 14 years and came to the brink of self-destruction when lead singer James Hetfield disappeared for almost a year in the middle of recording to recover from alcohol addiction. During this time, the band was also engaging in group therapy sessions with Dr. Phil Towle, a $40,000-a-month therapist and performance coach who had worked with pro football teams to help them better cohere and work together. And Berlinger and Sinofsky were there to capture it all.
The resulting film, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, culled from some 1,600 hours of footage, is some kind of revelation, laying bare the ragged skeleton of heavy metal gods who are, out of the limelight, decidedly human. The bravery Metallica shows in allowing their sometimes petty psychodrama to be depicted so candidly is extraordinary, and because they were so willing to strip emotionally for the camera in the moment, the film never feels manipulative or tawdry in the way E! True Hollywood Stories and VH-1 Behind the Music specials do. Rather, Berlinger and Sinofsky capture something profoundly intriguing: men at a crossroads.
The true power struggle emerges between Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, the two founding members of the band. Guitarist Kirk Hammett is the group’s quiet member, usually sitting silently while Hetfield and Ulrich hash out their disputes. However, when Hammett does choose to speak, he clearly has something to say, as he does when the subject of guitar solos being outdated comes up. If there is a transformative backbone to the film, though, it is Hetfield, who disappears early on for treatment and emerges 12 months later an extremely different person. His tenacity has not dulled, but it is better honed and more functional than in the film’s early passages, when he is prone to angry outbursts and stomping out of a room when disgruntled.
The filmmakers clearly respect their subjects, which is used to structure the film’s narrative. The film begins with members of the press interviewing the band for the release of their 2003 album St. Anger; thus, we see from the beginning that Metallica not only persevered, but triumphed. The questions posed by reporters--“Wasn’t there a point at which the band almost broke up?”--are like arrows just waiting to be knocked down. Seeing their triumph early on informs how we view the scenes to come, and in a sense it waters them down. All the outbursts, arguments, and soul-baring therapy sessions are ultimately for a successful cause; there is never a real sense that a true, unrecoverable breakdown is imminent. Of course, that could hardly be helped, as anyone in tune with the world of rock music knows that Metallica’s St. Anger album debuted at number one on the charts (although it’s hardly one of their better albums, something not touched on at all in the film) and they have since launched a successful world tour.
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster works primarily because it has the feel of something organic. It’s not the kind of documentary that was planned out from the start, but rather one that emerged through unfolding events. That is the power of Berlinger and Sinofsky’s work; more so than any other documentary filmmakers, they have a way of grabbing onto unexpected stories and making them compelling; even the band members’ overinflated sense of importance plays into the film’s texture of the inner world of aging rock gods clamoring for something to hold on to. By following life, Berlinger and Sinofsky turned Some Kind of Monster, which began as a piece of promotional fluff, into an intimate portrait of the fallibility of the seemingly invincible.
|Metallica: Some Kind of Monster DVD|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||January 25, 2005|
|Metallica: Some Kind of Monster was shot on video and is presented on this disc in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio. As with any film shot on video, the image has a sharp and contrasty look that lacks the fine details of something shot on celluloid. The darker scenes, particularly one that takes place in a nightclub, suffer the most, as they look splotchy and ill-defined. Of course, this is all inherent to the source material and has nothing to do with the transfer itself, which is as good as it can be.|
|If the video image is somewhat lacking, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is not. While much of the film is dialogue-driven, there is also a significant amount of Metallica’s music, both in rough form as they are recording it and in its finished form. The six-channel surround track sounds great, with a good, thundering low end and excellent ambience.|
|The first disc includes two audio commentaries. The first by the members of Metallica is mostly worthless. They have surprisingly little to say (it sounds like they’re pretty much sick of the film by this point); most of the commentary is silence punctuated by jokes, brief remarks, and burps. The second commentary by directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky is infinitely better, as they give an intriguing and candid account of how the film came to be and what it was like filming and putting it together (Berlinger also goes off briefly about his horrendous experience making the ill-fated Blair Witch sequel). The second disc includes 40 (!) deleted and extended scenes, which illustrates just how much material Berlinger and Sinofsky had to work with (there is enough here to make a second documentary). Most of the deleted footage is composed of entirely excised scenes that contributed to now smaller narrative threads in the film (particularly involving the actual business of making an album), although some are extended or alternate versions of scenes included in the film. About a third of these extra scenes have optional commentary by the filmmakers. Also on the second disc is footage of introductions and question-and-answer sessions from a number of the film’s premieres, including the Sundance and San Francisco Film Festivals, the New York premiere attended by Metallica, and a rough-cut preview shown to the Metallica Fan Club. Two theatrical trailers and a music video for “Some Kind of Monster” round out the impressive supplements.|
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment