Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
August 7, 2005
Most documentaries on musicians rarely rise above the level of an episode of VH1’s Behind-the-Music. They are either self-congratulatory puff pieces or tabloid fodder that dwells mostly on salacious aspects. Granted, the recent documentary, Dig (2004) is one of the rare exceptions. Residing somewhere in the middle is Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004). This documentary chronicles the band’s rocky road of making and releasing the album St. Anger. For a band that had a reputation of controlling every aspect of their careers (including the notorious battle against Napster), it was somewhat of a surprise that they would allow two documentary filmmakers, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, to show them warts and all.
On January 2001, Metallica lost their long-time bass player, Jason Newsted who had grown tired of being in the band. In order to deal with the growing dysfunction within Metallica, the members agreed to hire a therapist, Dr. Phil Towle, to help them deal with all of their issues. They decided to do this while writing and recording their new album in a makeshift studio at The Presidio in San Francisco.
At first, the revelations are pretty minor. We find out that Lars is an avid fine art collector, James likes driving fast in vintage cars and Kirk loves to surf. Even ex-band members Newsted and Dave Mustaine make appearances. Newsted speaks frankly about his split from the band and the reasons why, while Mustaine confronts Lars about why he was kicked out of Metallica and how it has aversely affected his life.
Dr. Phil enters the picture with his Cosby sweaters and throwing around psycho-babble jargon like “trust issues” and phrases like “co-producers of the process of slipping off the planet.” His relationship with the band becomes integral. He gets them to re-open old wounds (i.e. Mustaine) and confront each other. However, the longer he stays with Metallica the more they begin to depend on him and the harder it is for them to cut him loose when they no longer need him.
By Day 41 of recording the new album, the cracks start to show. James is in increasingly fouler moods and everyone is getting easily frustrated when a song doesn’t work. This culminates with a heated argument between James and Lars while Kirk watches helplessly. James’ drinking problem has gotten out of control and he goes into rehab throwing the future of the album and the band into question.
Some Kind of Monster is an intriguing look at the creative process of this band. Metallica should be commended for exposing many of their insecurities and foibles in this documentary. They could have easily made a glossy promotional ad for their new album but instead they had the confidence to let Berlinger and Sinofsky make the movie that they wanted to. The result is a fascinating look at the dynamics of a major league band like Metallica. You have to admire the guts it takes for these guys to have themselves shown in a negative light or to look silly. They are not afraid to tear down the macho, cool image that they’ve cultivated over all these years.
The first disc features two audio commentaries. The members of Metallica are on the first one and fall into the trap of watching the movie as opposed to commentating on it. Things pick on the second commentary track with the filmmakers, Berlinger and Sinofsky. They point out that the structure of their documentary is an homage to the classic Rolling Stone’s doc, Gimme Shelter (1970). They consciously tried to appeal to fans and non-fans like. The filmmakers recount many stories behind the doc and provide a good inside look at how it was put together, including their own internal strife that mirrored the one between James and Lars. As the filming went on Berlinger and Sinofsky closely identified with their subjects and what they were going through.
The second disc features 28 additional scenes with some of them including optional commentary by Berlinger and Sinofsky. There is more footage of the band at the MTV Icon special as they give props to Aerosmith. There is also a lot more footage of the band working on St. Anger as well as a good bit where Lars finally tells off Dr. Phil and Kirk goes to traffic school.
“Festivals and Premieres” features footage of the filmmakers and the band participating at Q&A sessions for various film festivals, including Sundance. It is interesting to see the band clearly enjoying this new venue and how they view the film after some time as passed.
“This Monster Lives” is 13 additional scenes, including an alternate version of the meeting between Lars and Dave Mustaine.
Also included is a music video with footage from the documentary.
Finally, there are filmographies for the filmmakers.