Some Kind of Monster
"The Great Metal Meltdown"
(Continued from Film)

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams (continued)

The main conflict is between two of the band members, James Hetfield (lead guitar and vocalist) and Lars Ulrich (drummer and Napster nemesis). These guys have been band mates since they were teenagers and have accumulated decades of issues, exacerbated by decades of drinking. They are at the stage where they basically don't like the other's face when they enlist the help of a Colorado based therapist named Phil Towle, a guru/sports therapist. With their own personal Dr. Phil in tow to the tune of $45,000 a month, the band sits down to confront their issues. They are joined in this therapy by their lead guitarist, the very Zen-like Kirk Hammett. Hammett appears to be the smartest of the three remaining band members. He has the ability to be a part of the group and still not engage in their conflicts.

There are many funny scenes in this movie but one of the funniest is when the band presents a mission statement to Towle. This mission statement is a total hoot, as trite a slate of boiler-plate-psychobabble as I have ever heard, straight out of the zillions of self help books that killed trees in the eighties. And these guys are serious. The sight of these heavy-metal-truck-drivers-looking-guys signing on to this mission statement was so funny I thought I would have to leave the theater to keep from disturbing my fellow audience members. The fact that they sign it is totally hysterical (heavy metal reeking with irony), but it also showed me that those guys must have really needed help for them to allow things to "come to this".

But mission statement aside, the acrimony and drinking have taken too heavy a toll, and it is not long before James Hetfield becomes extremely angry and leaves, slamming the door behind him in his usual fashion. But this time he does not return to fight some more. It seems that Hetfield checked into a treatment center for a quick fix and they wouldn't let him out. He is gone for eleven months, forcing a hiatus in the creation of the new album.

We are then left to follow the two remaining band members. Hemmett quckly retreats to his ranch, where he quietly remains, above the fray. We then follow Lars Ulrich, seeing him at home with his art collection as he shows us a huge, beautiful modern painting and points out the artistic genius it took for the artist to put cross hatching on one part of the canvas and not another. The painting is stunning and it is easy to see what he means: How did the artist look at a blank canvas and know what to create? We can easily see how this question also applies to the creation of music. There is also one hysterically funny sequence where Lars takes his father to see some mountain property he is considering buying. Lars's father, Torben Ulrich, is a skinny wizened looking old man who walks with a cane and has a long white beard hanging down to his waist. Frail appearance aside, Torben robustly criticizes everything Lars does. Nothing meets Dad's approval, not the land or the music. When Lars plays his favorite cut from the new album, his dad says, "I think you should delete it" - proving that no matter how rich and famous you become, parents are universal.

Then the newly sober Hetfield returns, and immediately wants to impose his new clean and sober living habits on the other band members. To maintain his new found sobriety, he only wants to work four hours a day and does not want the other band members to even listen to any of the day's production in his absence. He is also full of all kinds of recovery psychobabble that he expects the rest of the band to respect. The work restrictions and accompanying New Age fluff creates all kinds of conflicts with the producer and the other band members. These guys are workaholics and are used to putting in eighteen-hour days. As the producer says, it is all about the work - that is how they produce, they work. Their previous style seems to have been to get in the studio and stay until they have shoveled the music out of their brains. Creation is work.

There are many discussions/arguments about this newly imposed regime with the therapist - and then they change course and argue about whether they need the therapist at all. By then, their onsite Dr. Phil has become a little whacky, leaving signs around the studio about getting into the "Zone," and volunteering to write lyrics for the new album. The band members also argue about whether or not they need the film guys, and the filmmakers end up filming themselves, while talking to the band about whether the documentary should continue.

But in the end they decide to continue with their Dr. Phil on a limited basis and to also continue with the film, because the film is actually helping the therapy by forcing them to honest. And in an attempt to confront their past, they talk to Dave Mustaine, the guitarist they fired years ago because of his drinking and drugging. Ulrich in particular is shocked to discover that Mustaine is still feels hurt becuase he was cut from the band, even though he has gone on to great fame with Megadeath. This segment is totally raw and real and made me want to step out of the room so they could have some privacy. There is another mini-epiphany when they attend Jason Newsted's Echobrain concert. The band members seemed very happy to be there; only Newsted looked a little nonplussed.

And they take on a new bassist, Robert Trujillo, who is totally thrilled to be part of the band. They give Trujillo a $1,000,000 signing bonus and immediately leave with him to be part of the MTV Icon show. This segment of the movie is very upbeat and fun. But I was left with the thought that after this very cool introduction to Metallica, Robert is going to be very surprised when he finds out that he has joined a "family" that is enrolled in ongoing marriage counseling.

But in the end, by making the film and working with the psychologist, the band states that they were able pull things out of their psyches and look at them in the way that they would have been impossible if they had not been in therapy in front of a camera. I have always thought that sometimes we don't know who we are or what we think until we say or write something. By creation (and being in a documentary must be a very primal creative process) we show the world our souls. And through creation, we can also see our own souls. The epiphany of the documentary is when the newly clean and sober Hetfield speaks to some convicts at a prison concert and says "We're all born good, we have the same-sized soul." At that moment, the convicts loved him and so did I. It was a beautiful moment making me think that perhaps they could change their subtitle to "Some Kind of Magic."


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