July 29-August 4, 2004
Interview: Berlinger and Sinofsky
Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, whose back catalog includes the riveting documentaries Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, never expected to be making a movie about Metallica. But what began as work for hire, filming the sessions for the band's eighth album, grew into a three-year odyssey aptly reflected in the movie's subtitle: Some Kind of Monster.
"We had no agenda," Sinofsky reflects, killing time before a Philadelphia Film Festival screening. "Initially, this was a little gig between films. And then all this shit started happening. We always have these adventures. Paradise Lost was a movie about guilty teenagers until we realized there was something else going on."
The "something else" in this case was a band facing the end of a 20-year career. And, it turns out, a filmmaking partnership on the rocks. "We were having some growing pains," admits Berlinger, who had taken a leave of absence to direct the ill-fated Blair Witch 2. (His cut, unlike the theatrical version, was a satire.) "We hadn't made a film together in two years, because our relationship was getting very strained, not as friends but as collaborators."
Though critically acclaimed documentarians don't reap the same rewards as million-selling metal gods, it's clear the pair drew connections between their circumstances and the band's. Eavesdropping on Metallica's therapy proved to be, well, therapeutic. Berlinger says they found themselves "listening to these very successful, very intense guys explore all the issues that were unspoken between us, like who gets credit for what, what makes the thing work, how do we stay on top of our game. We went back to our hotel rooms a lot of nights, and it caused us to talk and get a lot of shit out that had been building up for years."
Musicians and documentary filmmakers develop a nonverbal shorthand essential to their craft, so it's not surprising both benefit from a brush-up in communication skills. The band's therapy sessions, Berlinger says, were "less about them getting in touch with their feelings, and more about giving them the tools to communicate. These are guys who for 20 years never really talked to each other."
Still, some things are better left unsaid, or said once and put away. After his partner leaves the room, Sinofsky casts his vote for the ineffable. "I used to obsess about 'what does Bruce do?' 'What do I do?' But when Bruce and I come together, it just works. Don't question it. Don't reduce it to analysis."