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Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)

  Directed by: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
Starring: Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Bob Rock, Phil Towle, Lars Ulrich
Links: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster on the IMDb, Official site, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Documentary

This movie gets: 8.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"Heavy metallers have feelings too" - a review by pearly

Filmed from 2001 to 2003, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster documents the everyday goings-on during the recording of Metallica's latest album St. Anger.

It's essentially a fly-on-the-wall documentary, and, according to Joe Berlinger, one of the film's directors, who spoke about the process of shooting during the Melbourne International Film Festival, the members of the band had a decidedly small amount of input into the final editing of the film - so it's fairly bones-and-all stuff.

Metallica have been around for about twenty years, with three of the band members (Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, and Lars Ulrich) having been there since the beginning or pretty close to it. Only the bass player has varied much during the band's time, due firstly to a death, and on from there. Hanging out with the same few people for twenty odd years has got to wear on you a little, and this is definitely the case with the three staple members of Metallica.

As a consequence, the band has hired Phil Towle, a counsellor. Towle helps the band members to deal with the growing tension going on between them (in theory). He quickly becomes a constant fixture around the place, as the band hire him on a full-time basis (for $40,000 per month, no less).

And this forms the basic structure of the film - the practice sessions, personal interactions, and discussions with the counsellor. For someone interested in music (and hopefully for people who aren't, if the directors have any say in the matter), this is a fascinating process. It certainly doesn't hurt that the members of the band are intriguing characters. You've got:

  • Hetfield is the lead singer, and a guitarist. He's probably the most well-known person in the band (with Ulrich a close second). Hetfield battles with alcoholism during the film, and ends up leaving rehearsals for a long time while he goes into rehab. He and Ulrich used to be quite controlling (they wrote all the parts for the band, and then just told the others what to play and how to play it), but more recently the band has been trying to more evenly distribute the work, and Hetfield has been finding it difficult to let go of this power.
  • Ulrich plays drums. He's a straight-talking guy with strong opinions on things (for example, he thinks that Napster is bad). He's got a young kid who has gorgeous blonde curls. I find it hard to believe that he and Hetfield didn't end up killing one another at some point - the way they communicate with one another is so brimming with misinterpretation and just-under-the-surface insults that it's amazing that they've managed to keep the band together.
  • Hammett is the quiet achiever, which is odd given that he's also the lead guitarist. If there's one reason that the band have been able to stay together, it's because Hammett seems to have a calming effect on the other two. In all of the arguments that broke out during the course of the film, Hammett never rose his voice, and the only time he even expressed a strong opinion on anything was when the band discussed whether or not they should include guitar solos on the album, given the fact that they're not currently trendy (despite the fact that Hammett is the lead guitarist, and he wanted to have solos, because he didn't want the album to be tied to one particular time in history, it appears that the only fight he tried to win was lost, as there aren't really any solos on the album).

Add into the mix the "session bassist" (he's also their regular producer) that the band are using for recording, a guy named Bob Rock who comes across as almost like a wise man, with his metered and always very fair contributions to discussion. And then of course, there's the counsellor himself, who towards the end seems to succumb to the same temptations that people always worry counsellors will: he tries to convince the band that they still need him (he wants to keep getting that sweet, sweet paycheck), even though they've switched into a different mode where they're more together when they're bagging him out than they are when he's trying to help them.

There's also some very interesting bits involving various other people, such as the particular counselling session where Dave Mustaine, one of the band's old guitarists, is invited to discuss his feelings towards the band, when he tells Ulrich in no uncertain terms that being sacked from the band has messed with his life. Even though he has gone on to form successful rival band Megadeth, Mustaine cannot shake the feeling that he wasn't good enough for Metallica. Also, there's the introduction to Torben Ulrich, Lars' father. You can see where Lars gets his outspokenness from, as Torben listens to some of the tracks recorded thus far for the new album, and tells Lars that the one they're currently considering as the opener they should instead consider throwing into the bin. What a top guy!

Also interviewed is Jason Newsted, the most recent bassist to leave the band after spending a good amount of time with them, but feeling frustrated by the way the band works. He offers up a different perspective from the rest of the guys, and is a good person to have in the mix to balance everything out. Rounding up the list of interesting additional people is Robert Trujillo, the guy who is eventually hired as Metallica's new permanent bassist. He adds a different dimension to the band, and the look on his face when he is first told that he can join the band, and that, as an incentive, he'll get a one million dollar advance, is priceless.

And so, in a roundabout way, I come around to giving my opinion on all this. It's true that this documentary will be able to be appreciated by anyone, not just fans of the band or fans of music. This is because it's about more than just Metallica. Of course, if you're a fan of the band, or you've seen or heard any of their antics, there's an additional layer of interest, because it really is weird watching these people in this personal context, and seeing them more for who they really are than as those guys with the long hair giving everyone they meet tinnitus.

The documentary ends with the triumphant return of Metallica to the stage, promoting their new album. Text on screen states that it went to number one in over 30 countries, or something like that. It's an interesting way to end the story, given that almost every review of the album I've read has said that the album sucks, and that I haven't met a single person who thinks the album is any good, and especially that I myself think the album is terrible. Luckily, the worthiness of the music isn't really the point of the film, and it's probably just that they had to end the documentary somehow. It did, however, seem like a kind of false conclusion to an otherwise very well-made documentary.

pearly gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 10 Aug 2004

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Reader comments

  1. It was F@#$ing awesome

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Hammett on Mon 13 Sep 2004 20:09 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 10.00 (1 rating)

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