Metallica got a lot more than they bargained for when they decided to document the recording of St. Anger. Instead of a straightforward documentary about a band recording their long awaited new album, with Some Kind of Monster the viewer gets a human drama about the mechanics and inner workings of a hugely successful band dealing with their setbacks and coming to grips with many issues. In many ways, this film would make a perfect centerpiece in curriculum if an adventurous university professor decided to develop a class about the sociology of successful rock bands. For everyone else, I will use the cliché you will most often find in reviews for this film; you do not need to be a Metallica fan to enjoy this movie.
For Metallica fans, this movie gives you some incredible insights into the band's creative process and further explains some of the fundamental changes that have taken place within the group.
The human drama starts right at the beginning of the film when the announcement is made that Jason Newsted had left the band after 14 years. About 20 minutes into this film I began getting the feeling that I have seen this story before and then it hit me that I had with The Beatles' Let It Be. The parallels between the two films were striking and for the rest of the movie I kept make mental comparisons, so a bit of a warning, that's the standpoint this review will come from.
It really is amazing how close Some Kind of Monster is to Let It Be, a film that many credit as documenting the breakup of the Beatles. First, you have the central characters. Lars is the dominating and controlling Paul McCartney. James is the distracted John Lennon who would rather be home with his family than in the studio. Kirk is the under spoken sideman George Harrison. Robert Trujillo is the outsider Billy Preston who comes in and gives the band a new sense of purpose and reminds them why they make music in the first place. Producer Bob Rock and the group's therapist Phil Towle (a sports psychologist) share the key role of Yoko, in that they both appear to feel that they are members of the group and often act as interlopers in the process. There is even a slightly real life parallel to the public reaction to Yoko with Lars' crusade against Napster.
But the similarities only begin there. Like the Beatles in Let It Be, Metallica pick an unusual setting for the recording of the album. The Beatles had the soundstage at Twickenham Studios and Metallica had The Presidio. Halfway through the filming of both movies, the band's abandon their unusual studios for more traditional ones.
The biggest parallels are the human ones. In both films, we get to see how success, other priorities, personal demons and motivations had changed the groups and driven the members further apart. For Metallica it had gotten to the point where they needed a group psychologist to make it work. We get to see the drawbacks to that in a few scenes in the movie. But one of the most shocking things to witness is how much these metal badasses have changed, especially with the filmed therapy sessions where we get to be a fly on the wall to see and hear the members "sharing" there feelings.
We also get to see just how far removed the members had become from their roots as struggling musicians. Some would say that if it gets to the point where you need a psychologist and your heart just isn't into making the music any more, then it might be time to think about moving on. Hardcore Metallica fans may disagree in this case but one of the unspoken themes of this movie seems to be that Metallica have gone beyond the point of no return and while you can't go backwards, sometimes it does make sense to walk away. I know that last statement will anger some diehard Metallica fans but that was one of things I took away from this film. The reason Metallica's music is so different now is they have a totally different set of motivations and priorities now. They are not the hungry young men making the explosive music, getting their aggression and anger out through song, motivated by their love of the music and their will to succeed. We now have a band that no longer turns to the music as the key outlet and if you will, therapy. They've had success and an entirely different set of pressures that go along with it. They may still have a love of the music but the human dynamics and outside pressures to conform to expectations now play a role in making the music. That is demonstrated in a few scenes with the interplay between the members of the band as they hash out songs. Lars telling the band that the guitar riffs sound "stock" and James commenting on Lars' drumming and using a forbidden word to describe it.
However, the change in motivations is no more evident than in a key scene where Kirk is arguing in favor of guitar solos. In some ways this scene is reminiscent of the famous argument between Paul and George in Let it Be where Paul says to George "But I really am trying to just say, 'Look, lads- the band, you know. Shall we... try it like this, you know?'" and George responds, "I'll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won't play at all if you don't want me to play." In Some Kind of Monster, Kirk is irritated at Lars and Bob Rock for not wanting solos and blasts the idea as being trendy and that it will date the album to that point in time. But as the argument unfolds Kirk backs down in a similar fashion to George when he uttered "Whatever it is that'll please you, I'll do it." The band may have been better served if Kirk had stood his ground because aside from the sound of the drums on the album, the biggest complaint from fans and critics was the lack of solos.
Some Kind of Monster really is a striking look inside the beast that is Metallica. The film works on so many different levels, a band documentary of the making of an album, a sociological study, a look at members of the one of the best selling bands in the world growing up and apart. But in the end, Some Kind of Monster works best because of its honesty. We don't see the process unfold through rose colored glasses. We get a frank and open look at the good, the band, and the ugly moments in a successful rock band. In this age of reality television, we end up with the ultimate reality drama. That is why this movie has been heralded by the most unlikely of people. This isn't just a film for diehard Metallica fans, anyone can take something away from this film.
But for the diehard fans (of the band and the film), you'll get more than you bargained for with the 2-disc DVD release, which in total has over 10 hours of content. Apart from the feature film with two separate audio commentaries (with the band and filmmakers), the special edition also features 40 additional scenes, exclusive post interviews with Metallica, as well as coverage of the festivals and premieres of the film. Not to mention the standard trailers and bonus music video.
If you are a rock fan and have not seen this movie yet, then you are only shortchanging yourself. For everyone else, you too would do well to see this film. In the end, Metallica has always been Some Kind of Monster but this film gives us a glimpse at the different sides of that monster.
Metallica's Some Kind of Monster
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