Some Kind of Monster (Berlinger / Sinofsky, 2004) is the greatest movie ever made about rock ‘n roll. Let me be clear - I have no real attachment to Metallica. Growing up and discovering heavier types of rock music, Metallica were so much a part of the vocabulary that the entity of them permeated the whole culture. As such I always had a reasonably good knowledge of their back catalogue, and the personalities in the band, and the struggles. The music, save for a few songs here and there, was never for me. An enjoyment of the band is not necessary to enjoy this film.
The film looks at the making of their 2005 album “St. Anger”, and the personal struggles surrounding it, mainly their hunt for a bassist, frontman James Hetfield’s struggle with alcoholism and their inability to write anything approaching not-hilariously-awful music. Because of these issues, Metallica - the biggest fucking metal band in the WORLD - cannot function with each other on a basic personal level so have to draft in a therapist to help them deal with their shit. Their therapist, Phil, is South Park’s Mr. Mackie made real, with an array of screaming sweaters. He talks in broad platitudes about how everything is a reaction that comes from “love” or “fear”, like Patrick Swayze’s sleazy paedophile guru in Donnie Darko. Every single scene is like something from This Is Spinal Tap - only more ridiculous because these are REAL PEOPLE.
In a key scene (above) we have Dave Mustaine, who has sold “only” 15 million records worldwide in his band Megadeth (compared to his old band Metallica’s 90), talking about how “everything I do fucking backfires” because people shout “METALLICA!” in the street at him. “Do you have any idea what I went through?” he asks his “little Danish friend” Lars Ulrich, drummer in Metallica. These are grown-ass men, richer and more successful than anyone I know, or will probably ever know. And they cannot speak to each other like human beings - which is the general thesis of the movie, at least for the first two acts. Note - Dave Mustaine later sued the filmmakers as they had apparently promised not to use footage where he cried.
Hetfield proclaims “I just like going really fast” and goes to Siberia for two weeks, missing his kid’s first birthday, to shoot bears and drink vodka. Lars tries to write a new drum beat that doesn’t sound “stock” and ends up looking like he’s suddenly contracted a serious muscle-wasting disease. Kirk Hammett, poor Kirk, the lukewarm water to Hetfield and Ulrich’s fire and ice (again, the Spinal Tap comparisons are so apt), all he wants is for everyone to get along and then he can go surfing, maaaan.
I’ve been in bands for 12 years, and I can attest to the fact that guys in bands (and it is mostly guys I have encountered, sadly) tend towards a state of arrested development. Playing music live is basically the furthest thing you can get from “real life”. While there can be a really difficult side when it comes to things like “the business”, money etc., most of the struggles you face are things like “we disagree on how this song should sound and it’s making me VERY UPSET” or “is there going to be people at the venue?”, especially when you’re a touring band - real life goes right on hold. This is not meant to be reductive - it can feel like an absolutely uphill struggle at times, but when a band is actually successful, you get to be a big kid banging bin lids together in front of people who have paid you for the privilege. It’s easy to see how it can completely warp your sense of reality and in this film you see a group of big kids who have been in the bubble of fame, success and excess for so long that they’ve become untethered.
The film has an ostensibly happy ending - they find a new bassist, plaited gentle giant Rob Trujillo. They finish their record, and MTV dedicates an “MTV ICONS” special to them (although the fact that St. Anger was pretty much critically reviled on release is neatly sidestepped). However, the damage has been done, and was done years prior to this episode. SKOM is an utterly fascinating insight into how that bubble can just completely separate you from what reality actually looks like.
I always struggle to put into words for those who aren’t in bands how different an experience it is watching this film when you have been in bands, but Sean as always hits the nail directly on the head. Great review of a great movie.