The most successful heavy metal band in history almost implodes as they attempt to record their first album in five years. Band cofounder and vocalist James Hetfield makes allusion to the Frankenstein monster and perhaps, subconsciously, his own band in "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster."
This band documentary has a pretty similar trajectory to Sam Jones's wonderful Wilco doc, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," but Jones is to Berlinger & Sinofsky as Edward G. Ulmer is to Alfred Hitchcock. As they proved with their masterful "Paradise Lost," there are no better documentary makers out there with the ability to walk into one situation, find quite a different story, and as the ground shifts beneath them, devise a richly layered piece of work.
Documenting the hard-partying Metallica's recording of an album under the guidance of therapist Phil Towle sounds like the makings of a comedy and there are indeed plenty of funny moments to be found. Drama, however, is the driving factor as control freak Hetfield goes into rehab, bassist Jason Newsted splits from the group, drummer and cofounder Lars Ulrich takes on Napster and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett tries to keep the peace leading by example.
The band attempts a fresh start by booking San Francisco's Presidio over a conventional studio. At first the music sounds raw ('they sound like a garage band, only that band is Metallica'), but soon the members are squabbling ('I'm used to the drummer keeping the beat.' Hetfield comments upon Ulrich's 'innovations') and inspiration is severely lacking. Hetfield walks out, enters rehab and the future of the album, the film and the band itself is thrown up in the air.
Berlinger and Sinofsky keep filming, though, delving into relationships past and present. We see how Lars is indebted to his dad, a hippy dippy Scandinavian who provides comedic color. Former lead guitarist Dave Mustane, who formed rival band Megadeth after being fired from Metallica, meets with Ulrich, appearing empty (if not too deep) after living the life of an also ran. Kirk's almost Zen attitude is reflected in his love of surfing and life on his horse ranch. Ulrich is piqued when Hetfield contacts Hammett but not him (just as he admitted to feeling left out when Mustane joined the band in the early 80s). Both members support Newsted when his new band Echobrain's first performance turns into an event of sorts. Ulrich divests himself of a magnificent art collection (including a particularly spectacular Basquiat painting) to begin collecting over again and finds himself beginning again in his career as well. 'One day later,' a full year has passed, Hetfield returns and the struggle begins anew. For the first time the lyricist agrees to open the songwriting floor to his bandmates, but he compensates his need for control in other ways. Towle, whose influence has been profound, begins to presume too much and ironically brings the band together in their decision to cut him loose. The auditioning and hiring of a new bass player (Ozzy Osbourne's Robert Trujillo, sporting a simpler version of Hammett's temperament) cements the group, the original three members finally coming to an understanding after decades spent together.
Berlinger and Sinofsky have extraordinary access to their subjects. Their presence is barely felt until they're prodded into the action by Hetfield's petulance or the extraordinary turn of events.
It should be noted that the filmmakers have a long term relationship with the band. The West Memphis Three, subjects of "Paradise Lost," listened to Metallica, a recreation used to stamp them as evil devil-worshippers. When Berlinger and Sinofsky floated the idea of using Metallica's music for that film, the band surprised and touched them by not only licensing it, but refusing to charge them for it.
The filmmakers and their editors David Zieff, Doug Abel and M. Watanabe Milmore have fashioned 1600 hours of footage into a compelling, immediate 140 minutes, an extraordinary journey of self and group exploration. One needn't be a fan of Metallica to become totally engrossed in their rediscovery. "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" one of the very best documentaries in a year rich with great ones.
Robin did not see this film..
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