London, 4th October 2013
Words: Nick Holmes.
Photos: Tess Donohoe.
Film score: 7/10
The film is out on general release from today, 11th Oct – check your local press for details.
During a career lasting over three decades San Francisco’s Metallica have released a mix of different films. The first was a touching tribute, mostly made up of bootleg and fan footage, for their original bass player Cliff Burton who died in a tour bus accident on the tour for the “Master of Puppets” album in 1986. Fast forward almost 20 years and 2004’s “Some Kind of Monster” documented a band that had become a brand and reached breaking point in the process. It was as painful to watch as it must have been to make as founder members James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich had very public midlife crises / nervous breakdowns. In the present day both are sober and substance free, the very expensive therapists seem to be gone and their new celluloid opus is very different.
A lucky few Metalli-fans descended on the BFI IMAX to see Denmark-born drummer Ulrich introduce the film and take questions after. In relaxed and good natured exchanges he confirmed there will be another studio album and the band have no plans to retire. He also revealed his favourite cheese is stilton and made a joke about infamous ’90s Britpop dandies Menswear! The latter was prompted by a question from the Camden band’s former sticksman Matt Everitt, now working for BBC 6 Music. Ulrich is a fan of Brit rock and pop, counting Noel Gallagher as a friend.
Anyway, the film itself consists of gig footage shot during a short series of concerts last summer spliced with brooding scenes in the wider cityscape. The opening features a hairy, tubby, old school fan who presumably failed to get a ticket to the sold out arena show. He stations his old banger in the car park facing the venue then leaps about excitedly on the roof while Metallica’s first album, “Kill ‘Em All”, blasts out of the stereo. Cut to a young lad in another car park below the building where the band and crew are preparing. This is Trip (Dane DeHaan) who turns out to be a local casual runner. He gets scowled at a lot in a “what’s he doing here?” manner and wears a permanently perplexed expression. As the gig begins he is asked by a crew member to go out in the city on an errand and has a jerry can thrust at him. He returns to his battered van where a sinister puppet hangs from the rearview mirror. Trip seems appropriately named as he pops a pill before setting off. Then shit gets weird. Weird and rather confusing.
The rest of the film lurches between live material and sequences featuring Trip’s adventures. The latter have no dialogue and on the journey through the largely deserted city he meets a couple of other equally confused looking folk, riot police and rioters. Plus a very angry dude on a horse wearing a sci-fi style gimp mask who seems intending on ending the trip in every sense. It is brilliantly shot and there is a grim, oppressive feel to the whole thing, but ultimately it asks a lot of questions without providing any answers.
DeHaan does well as Frodo-meets-the-apocalypse hero, but the nature or purpose of his quest is never explained. The project’s director, Nimrod Antal, co-wrote the script with the four band members. While laudable to involve everybody, maybe there is the problem. Too many cooks stirring a pot of half-developed or conflicting ideas. Maybe that’s taking it too seriously. In his post-screening chat, Ulrich mooted separating it to appear as a short piece in its own right alongside straight ahead concert footage when the DVD package is put together. This would be interesting to compare, but it would most like still not make any more sense.
Plot grumbles aside the rest is an aural and visual treat with 3D making it all the more thrilling. Even those not familiar with Metallica’s back catalogue would be hard pushed to not find themselves impressed. The stage show is spectacular and includes set dressings marking the classic albums. Of particular note is the huge electric chair that descends from the roof with giant Tesla coils zapping across it, in homage to 1984’s “Ride The Lightning” LP, and a re-work of the scales-bearing lady statue featured on 1988’s “…And Justice For All” tour. Hetfield is in great voice, also sharing guitar duties with Kirk Hammett and bassist Rob Trujillo shows off his bizarre crab-style walk while getting down and sweaty with the fans. There are also many glimpses of Ulrich’s balding head as the camera flies high above his impressive kit, which is certainly deliberately placed right at the centre of the action. As the final credits roll there is a hark back to “Cliff ‘Em All” which also ends with the track “Orion”. After the roller-coaster ride it is a slightly sombre and thoughtful close.
Now in the fourth decade of their career and all except Trujillo approaching 50 it was inevitable Metallica would have a go at repackaging themselves again. After seizing the rights to their entire recorded career they are in the fortunate position to be able to do exactly what they want. In recent times that has included founding their own Orion Festival and recording a bizarre album, “Lulu”, with Lou Reed. A logical step was to shake up the typical tour movie format. Hats off to them for this ambitious attempt even if it turned out flawed as well as occasionally fantastic.
The film may whet the appetite of fans anticipating the follow-up to 2008’s “Death Magnetic” album. Meanwhile Lars said the band have been bombarded with requests to take the “Through The Never” stage show on the road. If that happens, possibly next summer, that would be a ticket well worth buying. Hopefully the fat dude jumping on his car roof will get in next time too!
All words by Nick Holmes & all photos © Tess Donohoe. More of Nick’s writing on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.