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Metallica - Some Kind of Monster (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Starring James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo, Bob Rock, Jason Newsted, Dave Mustaine, Eric Avery, Joe Berlinger, Don Braun, Cliff Burnstein, Cliff Burton, Stefan Chirazi, Dylan Donkin, Erica Forstadt, Gio Gasparetti, Lani Hammett, Zach Harmon, Eric Helkamp, Cali Tee Hetfield, Castor Virgil Hetfield, Francesca Hetfield, Pepper Keenan, Danny Lohner, Peter Mensch, Peter Paterno, Twiggy Ramirez, Scott Reeder, Marc Reiter, Brian Sagrafena, Skylar Satenstein, Bruce Sinofsky, Niclus Swanlund, Phil Towle, Myles Ulrich, Torben Ulrich, Steven Wiig and Chris Wyse.

Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky.

Distributed by IFC Pictures. 140 minutes. Not Rated.

Back in the late sixties, a bootleg started making the rounds of music insiders and fans. It was called simply "The Troggs Tape" and still to this day is a prized collector’s item amongst rock fans. It is a tape of the band the Troggs, who had recently become famous with their hit singles "Wild Thing" and "Love Is All Around." During a recording session, while trying to get a song down, the band erupts into a cursing, angry, childish full-out argument. The bootleg taught the world two things. For the fans of popular bands, it taught that just because a group plays together and has hits together doesn't mean they like each other. For the members of those bands, it taught them when you are having a fight, turn off the damned tape!

I don't know if Metallica is familiar with the Troggs tape. They have acknowledged in the past that they weren't all that up on sixties music (when it was suggested that the speed-metal band have Marianne Faithfull do backing vocals on their single "The Memory Remains," they agreed to, but admitted that they had no idea who she was.). However, if Metallica does know about this piece of rock lore, it did not scare them. Because, in certain ways, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is a video age equivalent.

It is not quite so frenzied and violent. However the rift in Metallica was even deeper and potentially more damaging. The documentary begins with the leaving of long-time band bassist Jason Newsted. It is quickly very obvious that this was a bitter musical divorce, with simmering bad feelings boiling below. For the first time in sixteen years, the band is a trio (with bass covered by producer Bob Rock) as they rent out the Presidio in their hometown of San Francisco to record their new album, which would become the 2003 set St. Anger.

It quickly becomes obvious that Newsted was not the cause of all the tension in the band. Singer James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich are clearly pulling violently in different directions. Guitarist Kirk Hammett and producer Rock are constantly walking on eggshells, trying to keep the peace. Due to hard feelings amongst the band, the record label has hired a psychiatrist named Phil Toyle to try to get the metal Gods in touch with their feelings. This is an idea that is both touching and slightly surreal; quickly Toyle has these hard rockers (particularly Hetfield) talking in psychobabble and declaring their feelings.

When Hetfield checks himself into alcohol rehab, the already tenuous band is thrown into a spin. Will Hetfield come back? Will Ulrich stick around and wait for him? Will the band be able to deal with their front man sober for the first time in their career? As the time spent on the album balloons from days to weeks to months to years, the band members start to wonder if it is worth it to even try. When Hetfield gets out of rehab, the tug of war between him and Ulrich becomes even nastier. Hetfield is trying to keep from backsliding into the bottle, so he limits the time he can work from noon to four daily. He, somewhat paranoidly, somewhat unreasonably, insists that the rest of the band not work when he is not there... a request that is not met well by Ulrich.

All of this tension is captured by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the documentarians behind Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost. We see every step and misstep the band makes on the very long way to finishing the record (it ends up taking three years). During this time, Newsted starts a new band without them that is building a buzz, Ulrich made the infamous anti-Napster appearance at a senate hearing that had harmed the band's outlaw image and made them hated amongst the younger fans.

We learn things about Metallica that you would never have imagined from seeing them on stage or video. For example, drummer Ulrich is a huge art collector, with a collection worth millions. Who knew? Of course, he has to sell off his whole collection when he gets married and his wife wants them to make a new start... which I will not even touch for fear of getting a rep as being anti-marriage. Let's just say he makes the wrong choice.

The most fascinating part is watching Hetfield, the prototypical tough rocker probing his psyche and trying to overcome all of his fears. It is all fascinating, though it does help that for the most part Hetfield is a likable, if more-than-occasionally self-absorbed guy. Ulrich, too, is hard to dislike even though he often does things that are not likable. The filmmakers also talk to Newsted, who explains his reasons behind the split, and early band member Dave Mustaine, who complains that his life was destroyed by losing the Metallica gig, even though he had a pretty reasonable career himself as the leader of Megadeth. You really feel for Hammett and Rock, who are obviously good people that work harder to keep the band together than they get credit for – in fact, they are often the only islands of sanity in sight.

You don't have to be a fan of Metallica's music to enjoy Some Kind of Monster. (I really am not all that into their sound.) Nor do you have to like St. Anger, which most of their fans agree was one of their lesser performances. The reason you should watch this film is to see a band at the precipice of the abyss, much like the Beatles in Let It Be. Unlike that film, however, here the band survived to see the film. (4/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: April 24, 2005.

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