No matter how you spin Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's chronicle of headbangers on the couch, it sounds like a pitch-perfect parody in "Beyond Spinal Tap" mode. If anything, knowing it's no joke makes it harder not to giggle snicker at the thought of middle-aged multimillionaires in Hell's Angels drag trying to rekindle their creativity by hiring a $40,000-per-month therapist/performance-enhancement coach to help them parse how they feel. Sinofsky and Berlinger, whose industrial documentaries subsidize their less commercial projects, signed on to make a promotional film about the creation of Metallica's first studio album in six years. The project metastasized into a highly personal, two-year slog through the aging rockers' personal and professional travails, starting with longtime bassist Jason Newsted's abrupt departure despite the efforts of therapist/performance coach Phil Towle — whom Metallica hired at the urging of their management — to keep the band together. It's to Metallica's credit that though they eventually bought out their label's interest to keep corporate concerns from truncating the project, they resisted the impulse to use their financial leverage to make themselves look better. Towle, whose lucrative specialty (career counselors, take note) is helping people who can't stand the sight of each other get along on the job, stayed to help the remaining three band members through the process of writing and recording their next album. A few months into the first round of riffing and soul searching, lead singer James Hetfield, who co-founded Metallica with drummer Lars Ulrich in 1981, stormed out of therapy and vanished into what became a year's worth of rehab. Before the film and the album — 2003's St. Anger — were finished, Berlinger and Sinofsky had amassed 1600 hours worth of sturm und drang. Hetfield returns, newly fluent in recovery-speak; Ulrich crusades against Napster, alienating fans; Towle gets his walking papers for starting to behave as though he's in the band, not working for the band; Newsted gives his old friends the cold shoulder and a new bassist, Robert Trujillo, is hired. Ulrich and Hetfield supply the fireworks; lead guitarist Kirk Hammett worries; former lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, whom Hammett replaced after Mustaine was fired in 1983, has a sullen heart-to-heart with Ulrich; wives, children and various relatives wander in and out. It's a mesmerizing spectacle that reveals little about the creative process and lots about Ulrich and Hetfield's personal mess, which is much the same mess other people tackle with fewer resources and no fanfare.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: NR
- Review: No matter how you spin Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's chronicle of headbangers on the couch, it sounds like a pitch-perfect parody in "Beyond Spinal Tap" mode. If anything, knowing it's no joke makes it harder not to giggle snicker at the thought of mi… (more)