Over the weekend, I saw a documentary that I found quite fascinating and has stayed in my head longer than most movies. I am a big fan of Metallica’s darkly perfect black album, but I’ve sold off most of their other CDs in my collection; the latest album, “St. Anger,” was particularly unlistenable, I found. But even if you don’t like Metallica’s music, this documentary is still quite fascinating as a study of human nature and a glimpse into an unusual life experience.
The reason I like this film is because it throws back the curtain and shows the little, normal men who are behind all that Metallica shock and awe. The film reveals individual personalities in a fascinating way, and it shows how personalities come into conflict with each other and how egos manifest themselves. It shows a lot about the dynamics of the creative process. Plus, it gives an interesting glimpse into how fame and money affect these guys’ lives, without ever being preachy. You really get to know the individuals, pimples and all. For example, I always thought lead guitarist Kirk Hammet was some kind of scary warlock, but in this film he comes across as a pussy willow, the Steve Buscemi of metal.
The film revolves around the three main, long-time Metallica guys, and interesting threads include their $40,000-a-month full-time therapist who helps them write a Metallica mission statement, some emotionally raw sessions with two former band members, the band dealing with the lead singer’s disappearance into rehab for several months, the drummer’s selling off his art collection and becoming unpopular by fighting Napster, the band’s auditioning and hiring of a new bassist, glimpses of band members interacting with their wives and children, the drummer’s very interesting, long-bearded father, the band’s hairy manager, and more. The film runs about 2 hours, 20 minutes but never felt slow or boring to me.
When it comes to Metallica’s 1991 black album, I enjoy listening to it, but I think the lyrics show signs of diabolical inspiration, although nothing in the documentary would lead me to believe these guys are devil worshippers or anything. In particular, the song “Sad But True” seems to be about some kind of possession, the song “Wherever I May Roam” about Cain (“the earth becomes my throne,” “off the beaten path I reign”), “Through The Never” about following the pathway of perdition, and “The God That Failed” either a dismissal of Christ or sympathy for the devil. Also, the snake on the front is coiled in such a way as to suggest 666.
There’s something really compelling and fascinating about seeing this deeply into real people’s lives, and a well-done documentary like this gets into my head a lot more than a fictional film usually does, because I’m aware it’s real. I remember “The Blair Witch Project” made a similar impact on me because, on some level, I bought into the premise that the people and situation were real, and I kept thinking about them for days afterward.
Another strange thing about this Metallica film: I don’t think anybody smokes a cigarette throughout the whole film, which would be something I’d expect. Instead, you catch glimpses of bottled water and bowls of fruit.