July 29-August 4, 2004
Some Kind of Monster puts Metallica on the couch.
In the era of emo and reality TV, for the low-on-gas metal band Metallica to expose the troubled process behind the making of their album St. Anger is, well, something other than brave. It's practically a liability for artists to seem untroubled these days; Jessica Simpson's songs may not hint at any secret darker than an indifference to pitch, but that doesn't stop fans from prying into her (virtual) private life. Even politicians want our understanding as much as our support.
Metallica may have made its reputation with lyrics like "Darkness, imprisoning me/ All that I see/ absolute horror," but their popularity rested on their not seeming too anguished about it. Their fans had hair in their eyes; they didn't need tears as well. But during the St. Anger sessions, which directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky planned to capture for a quickie featurette, something goes seriously awry. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, the band's remaining founders, start snapping at each other like an old married couple, with sweet-tempered guitarist Kirk Hammett playing the injured child. Hetfield seems wedded to the band's hard-partying ways, and though it's hard to know how much of his signature growl is created on the other end of the mixing board, his voice sounds muddy and strained.
Enter Phil Towle, "performance coach" to the stars. With his multicolored sweaters and avuncular manner, Towle might pass for a Presbyterian deacon, but after working out a few kinks, he's got the headstrong Ulrich (he of the fan-inflaming anti-Napster crusade) starting sentences with, "What I hear you saying is " It's hardly a surprise that the members of Metallica aren't big talkers, nor should it be that they have the same personal problems as the rest of us (plus a whole lot more money). Berlinger and Sinofsky don't waste time establishing that their subjects are "regular guys," or scoring cheap jokes off the disparity between their public and private personas.
In fact, Metallica's public face is rarely seen in Some Kind of Monster, which saves the obligatory concert footage for the credits. The movie sticks by producer Bob Rock's suggestion that the album "sound like a band getting together in a garage for the first time only the band's Metallica." They don't approach them like stars, so there's no need to tear them down or build them up.
The revelation isn't that one of the world's most successful rock bands went into group therapy: They're not even the first band to see this particular shrink. (He was recommended by Rage Against the Machine.) What the film reveals is how thoroughly the language of therapy has pervaded American culture. Towle may be the only person Metallica pays to get inside its collective head, but Rock serves much the same function, mediating intraband disputes and trying to keep them focused on what they do best. The reporters who probe the band's backstory in the opening montage may not have their best interests at heart, but they're asking the same questions a therapist would. Setting the camera right next to them, Some Kind of Monster puts us all on the couch.Metallica: Some Kind of Monster Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky An IFC release Opens Friday at Ritz Five recommended