Metallica: Monster's Brawl
Over the years, that tendency has resulted in the band receiving more than its fair share of criticism, and many of the scenes in Some Kind of Monster will only inspire more such attacks. Anyone who has written off the band’s post–Black Album career as nothing more than an across-the-board sell-out bid for mainstream acceptance will only have those feelings justified watching as James, Kirk and Lars begrudgingly record an ass-kissing promo spot for a radio station contest. Similarly, Ulrich’s post-Napster image as an arrogant, money-grubbing aristocrat is blown up to almost parodic proportions in one scene filmed at a swanky New York City auction house. As his pricey art collection is sold off for millions of dollars, the drummer sits in a private room, gleefully sipping champagne while an orchestral version of “Master of Puppets” plays softly in the background.
But moments like these are the film’s essence. Some Kind of Monster isn’t meant to be a glossed-over, Behind the Music–style infomercial disguised as an exposé; it’s more akin to pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz and finding that, far from being all powerful, he’s quite human, vulnerable and flawed. And that’s where Metallica, for all the “warts” exposed, are most successful. Love them or hate them, you cannot deny that their careers have had more than their fair share of trailblazing, uncompromising and inspiring moments. Some Kind of Monster is simply yet another triumph.
And the whole thing almost never happened.
When Metallica first met with Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky to discuss working together, the band was, in fact, interested in a promotional tool that could help sell a new album. The group had struck up a relationship with Berlinger and Sinofsky while the pair were working on Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, their 1996 documentary about the trial of three heavy metal–loving teens convicted of murdering three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. In the film, Berlinger and Sinofsky argued that the boys’ affinity for wearing black clothing and listening to metal was ludicrously inadequate proof of their guilt. They had hoped to license several Metallica songs to use in the project, and had faxed what they thought would be a futile request to Q-Prime, the band’s management.
“At the time, Metallica had never granted the rights to let their music be used in a movie,” says Berlinger, “and we figured that even if they did, they would charge a lot of money for it. But we got a callback an hour after we sent the fax and it was like, ‘Sure, what songs do you want?’ Apparently, the band were big fans of our first film, [1992’s] Brother’s Keeper, and they liked what we were doing with Paradise Lost. And to top it off, they gave us the music for free, no strings attached. And that’s how our friendship began.”
Despite numerous discussions over the ensuing years about a full-blown collaboration between the two parties, the closest they came to working together was when Berlinger and Sinofsky produced a Metallica episode of the short-lived VH-1 series Fan-Club. “Other than that, the whole idea died,” says Berlinger, “because we hit an impasse. Bruce and I wanted to do a film that took a very personal look at the band, while management had more of a clips-driven, historical thing in mind that they could run on an HBO or an MTV to help them sell product.”
It wasn’t until the end of 2000 that the idea was revived. At the time, Berlinger was reeling from the critical lambasting of his big-budget Hollywood directorial debut, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, a movie whose failure he blames on the studio “basically putting my cut into a blender and puking it out into the theater.” Berlinger thought it might be therapeutic to resurrect the Metallica project. To his surprise, management responded to his new inquiry with the news that Jason Newsted had just quit the band, Metallica were about to begin recording a new album with producer Bob Rock handling bass duties, and all the members, including Rock, were taking part in group therapy sessions. How would he and Bruce like to film the whole thing?
“It was like being dropped into Vietnam during the war without any preparation, and all of a sudden you’re right there in the thick of it,” says Sinofsky. “And there were no handlers or managers saying, ‘You can’t do this’ or ‘You can’t do that.’ It was just like, boom!—a month or two after the first phone call we’re filming a therapy session. I remember Joe and I looking at each other during those first few shoots and thinking, We don’t know where this is going, but it’s going to be unbelievable.”
“A film like this you can’t really plan out,” says Hetfield, “like, ‘Hey, let’s start rolling tape, and maybe something traumatic will happen soon!’ But things did start happening, and Joe and Bruce were there to capture these pivotal points in our personal history, which we then had an opportunity to share with the world. And if those things hadn’t happened, we would have merely had an ‘in the studio’ type of film that would have been used as promo material.”
As filming dragged on for more than a year—a time period that included a long and dormant stretch during which Hetfield was away in rehab—the project came dangerously close to being turned into a promotional vehicle. Elektra, Metallica’s record label, was anxious to reap benefits from its investment and pressured the filmmakers to wrap production. The label hoped to fashion a block of reality TV–like segments from the raw footage and air them to coincide with the release of St. Anger. But Metallica, believing the film had the potential to tell a much bigger story, opted to buy out their label’s 50 percent share of ownership (at a price of $2 million) and allow Berlinger and Sinofsky to complete the project as they saw fit.
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