Your Inner Head-Banger
The rock stars of Metallica go through intense music and therapy in this documentary.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Do head-banging heavy metal and personal growth therapy mix? Can the world’s angriest metal band produce a comeback CD while in the middle of group therapy to iron out their aggressions? These are the questions posed in this entertaining documentary from filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, in which the embattled members of Metallica work on their relationship during the two-year production of their comeback CD St. Anger. More than a standard “making of” rockumentary, the film observes the creative process while inviting us to ponder the relationship between art and personal evolution as the band members face the challenge of growing up at the risk of losing the raw element that originally inspired their music.
The filmmakers don’t assume we know anything about Metallica going in, and there’s no narrative voice to spin what’s onscreen; discreet title cards set the stage and identify the players. In 2001—after 20 years of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll—band members are pushing 40 and struggling to get a grip on their lives and their fame. Hellbent frontman James Hetfield grudgingly agrees to share songwriting duties with the others in a brainstorming approach to creating new material, then puts the sessions on hold for a year while he enters rehab to get sober for his wife and kids.
Co-founding member and drummer Lars Ulrich is also a family man who collects edgy and pricey modern art, and whose Congressional testimony on copyright issues has shut down Napster and made him “the most hated man in rock ‘n’ roll.” Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett has given up drugs for surfing and tries to be an example of go-with-the-flow Zen cool to the others. Longtime producer Bob Rock sits in on bass since the band’s bassist Jason Newsted has just quit after 15 years. And every prickly moment of the band’s struggle to reinvent itself is shepherded along by therapist Phil Towle, a “performance enhancement coach” who talks like Mr. Rogers, and has been hired by the band to talk them through their problems (for $40,000 a month!) at Lars’ insistence and over James’ mounting resentment.
Flashbacks to the band in their big-hair, alcohol-soaked
heyday offer inspired counterpoint, while the juxtaposition of
touchy-feely therapy with the metal lifestyle (to create
“aggressive music without negative energy”), however noble a
goal, provides absurdist moments worthy of Spinal
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER (Three Stars)
Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Starring James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett
(Rated R, 140 minutes.)