Metallica: The Monsters That Exist

Theodora Guliadis

The multiple meanings of the word “monster” make it an appropriate label for a legendary heavy metal band – one part larger-than-life success story, the other half a frightening display of (near) humanity. In the documentary, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, this dichotomy is examined as the camera follows the men behind the music. It is fitting that at the beginning of the film, drummer Miles Ulrich likens Metallica to ‘a modern Frankenstein’ while describing how the bandmates’ unique talents mesh together to form something so big and powerful that it has endured for 20 years.The film was shown in Love Auditorium last Friday with a foreword and closing comments from one of the film’s producers, Joe Berlinger ’83. Filmed by Bruce Sinofsky from 2001-2003, the piece depicts Metallica’s return to the studio after a five year hiatus. Both Berlinger and Sinofsky expected the project to be music driven but after documenting the first day’s therapy session, they realized that it was going to be bigger than that. It follows bandmates Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield (lead singer), and Kirk Hammet (guitarist) through an incredibly transforming experience. The film not only focuses on the creation of a new album but also the demons – or monsters – that exist in each of the members. Phil Towle is a therapist, who for $40,000 a month, helps the individuals behind the phenomenon of Metallica cleanse themselves of worries and hidden emotions. Lars is the bandmate who has to deal with harsh criticism from his father and the overpowering ways of his bandmate James. He chooses to release his anger through intense art. Kirk is the carefree one, trying to mediate situations – which makes you wonder why the therapist is there – and he immerses himself in surfing and music. James, on the other hand, is the bandmate who is vile with his words as he battles alcoholism. In fact, his addiction nearly demolished the film and destroyed the band due to his six month stint in rehab. Nevertheless, he returns a new man, a calmer, more considerate person. He transforms from a surly drunk at the beginning of the film to a man who can sing in front of a prison and preach good things to the inmates. Some Kind of Monster reveals Metallica’s humanity, crafting its cast of characters into human beings which the audience and fans can relate to throughout the film. There are moments during which we see the members’ sensitive sides, like when they cuddle with the children, and we can see that they are focused on more than just themselves. Throughout the film, the viewer notices that the cameras are more than just neutral observers. According to Berlinger, the cameras follow “the Heisenberg rule, in which after you watch something for a while you begin to change it.” This also adds to the personal aspect of the documentary. It shows the frustrations of dealing with superficial reporters. (The film focuses on this by showing clips of various interviews in which the reporters all ask the same questions.) Aside, from just recording the therapy sessions, Berlinger and Sonofsky focus on the tensions and frustrations of creating a new album. A narrator describes the musical aspect of the documentary, “it should sound like a garage band getting together for the first time, only the band is Metallica.” Despite setbacks and endless hours in the studio. the group eventually hires a new guitarist named Robert Tujilo and conjures the perfect album title, St. Anger, to explain the band’s feelings about Napster and reconstruction to the world. It seems the band members learn how to compromise with each other and how to appreciate each other’s artistic viewpoints. The film is wonderfully executed and the use of intense Metallica music thumping in the background manages to maintain the audience’s awareness of Metallica’s musical mastery despite its moral downfalls. The only weakness of the film, according to Joe Berlinger, is that out of an 11 month “dark period” only 20 minutes was shown. Nevertheless, those 20 minutes provide the audience with enough sense of Metallica’s faults. With more than 1600 hours of footage the documentary is not merely a “fan” film. There are no narrations, just a few facts and flashbacks to inform those who are clueless about Metallica’s past. Throughout the documentary, Metallica battles many monsters, but in the end the band learns to communicate more effectively through its music and through one another. The last shot of the film rebuilds its legend, as Metallica takes the stage at a massive stadium with thousands upon thousands of cheering fans. People are monstrous because they sometimes tend to hurt loved ones and friends with cruel words and actions. Temptations, such as drinking, are monstrous because aside from negatively affecting our lives and the lives of those we love, they bring out the worst in us. The soul is monstrous in that it has the flexibility to change for the better. Creativity is monstrous in that it is what feeds our need for uniqueness. Music is monstrous because it sometimes is a universal art, that can have you gripping to the edge of your seat. And Metallica is monstrous, not just because its metal music is so dynamic and ferocious that it has everyone’s adrenaline pumping for hours, but because they were able to survive 20 years of hardships and then reform in order to become a legend – an untouchable historical symbol of a band that defined the essence of metallic rock.