Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (5/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

The facts about the heavy metal hard rock band Metallica provide a telling commentary on the state of our culture. Metallica has sold 90 million albums worldwide. In the last 10 years, Metallica has sold more albums than The Beatles, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne or Celine Dion. Metallica has been the #1 most played artist on rock radio in the last 10 years. With over 12 million concert tickets sold, Metallica has been the #1 North American concert draw of the last 10 years.

If you donít think this is amazing, just listen to what they call their ďmusic.Ē To me, itís little more than loud noise. When they ďsingĒ itís more akin to yelling than singing.

This film is a cinema vťritť documentary about their problems from 2001-2003. And, boy, did they have problems. The ďstarsĒ are Founding Member, lead singer and guitarist, James Hetfield, Founding Member and drummer Lars Ulrich, and Phil Towle, a Therapist/performance enhancement coach, hired in 2001 to help them work out their problems.

Kirk Hammett is a guitarist who joined the band in 1983, two years after its founding. He just kind of sits around and watches Hetfield and Ulrich and Towle.

Hetfield is an attractive man who seems to have problems figuring out how to grow his facial hair. His solutions are bizarre. But maybe thatís de rigueur for a hard rocker. Ulrich comes across as an insensitive, petulant, spoiled rich kid whoís constantly harping on Hetfield (so rich we see him selling his art collection at auction for around $10 million). One day in the middle of producing their next album, Hetfield storms out, slams the door, and goes into some sort of rehab, shutting down the production of the album.

The cameras were allowed access to all the sessions and film many confrontations between Ulrich and Hetfield, which are intense. They clearly have problems. Towle just sits there and watches as Ulrich continuously attacks Hetfield verbally. For them to allow their petulant disagreements to be so widely seen indicates to me that they are either amazingly mature and self-confident, or amazingly masochistic. 

One of the best scenes for me was when Hetfield confronts Towle about the continuation of his services (for which he was being paid $40,000 per month!). Towle comes across as a therapist that could qualify for a skit on Saturday Night Live. One could not create a better fictional caricature of a platitudinous therapist, a pompous Bob Hartley (The Bob Newhart Show, circa 1970s), except that Bob intended to be funny and ineffectual.

I had two problems with this film. The first is that Itís far too long, at almost two and a half hours. I had understood it was only an hour and a half, so I was really squirming as it went on and on and on. The second is that I just donít like or respect their music. One of my main criticisms of De-Lovely was that it didnít even try to explain how and why Cole Porterís songs were written. To its credit, Metallica does show them writing their ďmusic,Ē but itís such an unappealing cacophony of noise that I really didnít care how they came about it. It seemed to me that all they had to do was go out on stage and start banging their drums and plinking their guitars and yelling nonsense into the microphone and that was it. To listen to them sit around and talk about the integrity of the songs they write struck me as preposterous. But, and I feely admit this, I donít like their sound and apparently donít understand it. That clearly sets me apart from the people who bought 12 million tickets the past 10 years to listen to it.

After Hetfield returns to rejoin them, they audition for a new Bassist because Jason Newsted, their bassist from 1986-2001, quit the band. We see several bassists auditioned. They all sounded horrible to me. Finally they hire Robert Trujillo. They explain why. Maybe youíll understand.

If this were about The Beatles, I would have been mesmerized. So I guess it all depends on whether or not you like their sound. If you do, you should like this. If you donít, youíll squirm as much as I. Had it been 90 minutes, it would have been fascinating, to see the inner workings of a fabulously successful music group, even if I donít know or like the sound. But at almost two and a half hours, itís numbing.

July 10, 2004

The End