metallica: some kind of monster

I recently saw the documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (IMDB). Regular readers of my blog (hello, you two) should know that I have pretty ecumenical music tastes. I used to be a huge fan of heavy metal: Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, the Scorpions, Judas Priest, and a whole bunch of bands you’ve probably never heard of. However, around the time Metallica first attracted attention in the early 1980s, my tastes had already started moving in other directions. It wasn’t until the 1989 song “One” became a hit that I actually heard anything by them. Given the seven-and-a-half minute song’s loud/quiet dynamics (I was digging the Pixies at the time) and anti-war stance, I thought they were interesting. I’d listen to subsequent songs that came across my car radio, but I have never bought any of their albums.

Ann Hornaday’s review in the Washington Post convinced me that this was a movie I needed to see. I’m a sucker for documentaries, and Monster filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky are known for two previous, critically well-received works: Brother’s Keeper (1992) and Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996). I disagree with Hornaday’s contention that this is a movie about a band struggling to remain relevant, although this theme is a thread. Rather, in Monster, the filmmakers focus on interpersonal relationships and the frustrations of the creative process. Yes, there are some Spinal Tap moments, but not many, in my opinion.

Like the HBO series The Sopranos, in which the viewer is let in on the thought processes of gangster Tony Soprano through his therapy sessions, Monster allows us to sit in on the sessions that the band, as a group, has with Kansas City therapist and performance coach Phil Towle. The documentary begins in 2001, when the band is about to record a new album. They’ve just fired their longtime bass player, Jason Newsted because he refused to quit his side project band, Echobrain, saying he needed it as an alternative creative outlet. This kind of clash becomes apparent in other developments in the band’s history. Drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist James Hetfield – both of them dominant personalities, in sharp contrast to the mellow Buddhism of lead guitarist Kirk Hammett – argue in the studio over each other’s playing style. At one point, Hetfield expresses unease with the idea of the other band members working on songs while he is out of the studio, saying that he doesn’t want to feel like he’s just being added to a finished product as an afterthought. Hammett responds with “That’s what I’ve felt like. [pause] For the last twenty years.” Years-old conflicts are revisited as former lead guitarist Dave Mustaine (he went on to form Megadeth), kicked out in 1983, comes to a session with Ulrich to discuss what the past two decades have been like for him. “Do I wish you guys had said, ‘Dave, you need to go to Alcoholics Anonymous?” he asks. “Yeah, I do.”

This kind of candor, and (however unlikely it sounds) the increasing fluency with which these heavy metal musicians are able to discuss how they feel towards each other and work through their disagreements without ultimatums make for a pretty compelling film. A lengthy portion of the film features Ulrich and his gnome-like father, and it’s clear that although he’s sold about 100 million records by this point, Ulrich still worries about what his father thinks of their new material. Upon hearing a new track, Ulrich senior gives it a thumbs down, and his son looks like he’s about to cry. When the band performs at a prison, Hetfield gives a brief, informal talk to the prisoners about anger (the new album will be called St. Anger) and the productive ways of channeling it before admitting that he’s nervous and doesn’t know what to say; the prisoners in the audience show their support by giving him the classic heavy metal hand gesture. The crew and his fellow bandmembers give him hugs as he comes offstage.

Hetfield goes into rehab to deal with his alcohol abuse, and the other band members (now just Ulrich and Hammett) don’t see him for a year and are unclear if he’ll still want to be in the band when he comes back. Upon his return, they create music according to a new work ethic: Hetfield needs to leave at 4:00 every day so he can be with his children. Although previously, individual band members were not allowed to comment on each other’s role in the band (the drummer couldn’t criticize the lyrics, for example, and the singer couldn’t criticize the drumming), they now decide that anything goes and each member throws out ideas for song lyrics. Hammett offers “My life style determines my death style,” and everyone laughs at what sounds like an odd sentiment. But they listen as Hammett explains some of his Buddhist beliefs, and by the end of the movie we see Hetfield singing that exact line on stage as the camera cuts to Hammett in a pretty subtle edit.

The new album debuts at #1 on the charts when it’s released, and Ulrich argues that this proves you can make a harsh, aggressive album through a process that doesn’t involve constant conflict and anger. For a musical genre known for its cartoon-like masculine posturing, this is all pretty remarkable stuff. The movie’s not perfect – it presents an unrelentingly positive view of the band – but it’s definitely interesting, whether you’re a fan of heavy metal or not.

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it’s a long way…

We’re on spring break this week, and in addition to reading about the history of reading in preparation for finishing up my paper to be delivered later this month at ASECS, I’ve been watching movies. One of them, School of Rock, is just pure escapist fun that easily transcends a fairly tired trope: the substitute teacher who turns out not to be what s/he seems.

A highlight of the movie is Jack Black’s character, Dewey Finn, leading his young, prep-school students in a rehearsal of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock & Roll)”, originally released on the 1976 album High Voltage. While I now have fairly eclectic tastes in music, I used to be a big fan of hard rock and heavy metal, and AC/DC was one of my favorite bands in high school. The lyrics to this particular song, however, resonate in a completely different way now that I’m involved in a profession where so many smart people spend so much time in adjunct positions with meager benefits and no job security: “Gettin’ ripped off / Under-paid / Gettin’ sold / Second hand.”

Complete lyrics below the fold.

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oscars 2004

Here are my non-comprehensive predictions of who will win, not who should win. We’ll see how it turns out. I’m online if anyone wants to chat while watching.

  • Actor in a leading role: Sean Penn
  • Actor in a supporting role: Benicio Del Toro
  • Actress in a leading role: Charlize Theron
  • Actress in a supporting role: Shohreh Aghdashloo
  • Art Direction: Girl with a Pearl Earring
  • Directing: Lost in Translation
  • Documentary Feature: The Fog of War
  • Makeup: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Best Picture: Mystic River
  • Visual Effects: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Writing (Adapted Screenplay): American Splendor Mystic River

Update: Okay, so I was correct about Best Actor, Best Actress, Documentary Feature, Makeup, Visual Effects. Not such a great record compared to my predictions last year.

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something’s got to give, indeed

Have you seen the trailer for the new movie Something’s Gotta Give? I really couldn’t tell you what it’s about, but I do know that it looks like a character played by Keanu Reeves (who is 40) dates a character played by Diane Keaton (who is 57). Oh, and Jack Nicholson (who is 66) is in the movie, too.

Two things really chafe me about the preview. First, you can tell it’s supposed to be surprising that a man Reeves’ age is interested in a woman Keaton’s age. Now how often have we been expected to swallow a movie in which an older male actor like, say, Michael Douglas (born in 1944) plays the husband of a younger female actor like, say, Gwyneth Paltrow (born in 1972)? Reverse the genders of the two leads, apparently, and Hollywood doesn’t think we’ll be able to handle it without “acknowledging” that such a pairing is hard to believe.

Second, there’s a “comic” scene in which Jack Nicholson’s character comes upon Diane Keaton’s character naked and is apparently so shocked by the sight of her 57-year-old body that he staggers backwards and runs into a wall. This is funny? This is believable? Now, if Keaton’s character came upon Nicholson naked and was disgusted, that I could believe. I mean, have you seen Jack Nicholson?

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…later that same day

I had a very difficult, hour-long conversation with someone who’s known me my whole life, though I haven’t spent any significant time with him in person or on the phone in years and years. Alone on Thanksgiving, and after a few drinks, he decided to call me for company and solace. Hoo-boy. I think I felt full-strength doses of all the emotions in the human repertoire one by one, and I was drained after we were done.

So to get my mind onto something else, I took our out-of-town guest, L’s sister R, on a tour of Kansas City. We went to the City Market and walked out to take a look at the Missouri River and the work that’s just started on the Kansas City Riverfront Heritage Trail. We toured Columbus Park next, probably the most diverse neighborhood to be found here. Then we headed to the 18th and Vine district
(check out these pix from the Kc Public Library), home of the American Jazz Museum as well as the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, a place I suspect Chuck will want to see when he comes to visit. From there, we drove through the Crossroads District, home to many studios and galleries of artists in KC’s creative community, on the way to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Community Christian Church; unfortunately, it’s not really anything all that exciting compared to the other Wright buildings I’ve seen. Finally, we rented a couple of videos from SRO Video: Eddie Izzard: Glorious, and Thunder Road.


So how was your day?

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