Great rock documentaries, such as 1967’s Don’t Look Back and 1970’s Gimme Shelter, have secured a place in film history, not only for capturing the essence of a particular period in music, but for being windows into the culture of the time. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (IFC), which releases in theaters on July 9, has the potential to join these great documentaries of film history. Acclaimed directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Brother’s Keeper and Paradise Lost) provide an intimate glimpse into the creative process and the interpersonal struggles of one of hard rock’s most definitive bands.
Some Kind of Monster grants audiences rare access into the lives of Metallica’s James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett over a three-year period while recording St. Anger, their first studio album in five years. The film chronicles the personal and professional challenges that accompanied the recording process — bassist Jason Newsted leaving the band, Hetfield entering rehab and Metallica ultimately seeking the advice of a counselor to keep the band from falling apart. "This is not a film about Metallica," Ulrich told Rolling Stone. "It’s a film about relationships."
Campus Circle sat down with directors Berlinger and Sinofsky to talk about their experiences making the film.
Campus Circle: Some Kind of Monster is being compared to rock documentaries Don’t Look Back (about Bob Dylan) and Gimme Shelter (Rolling Stones). Where do you see this film in comparison to those earlier, classic works?
Joe Berlinger: It’s a huge honor on many levels. The reason that films like Gimme Shelter and Don’t Look Back transcend their genres is because they’re social documents about the times that they’re in. Our film certainly is about music, but it’s also about human growth and the creative process. It’s about the acceptability of therapy and the willingness to explore yourself. It’s such a modern film, in so many ways. Instead of telling people what happened, we tell people how it happened and why.
In the film, songwriting is discussed as a type of catharsis or therapy in itself. It was interesting to see that creative process paired up with actual therapy sessions on screen. Can you comment on that?
Berlinger: Metallica had never explored that before. Like James [Hetfield] says at the end of the film, St. Anger is like a diary about what they all went through. We made a real conscious effort to show how the music was manifesting itself, as a result of what they were going through interpersonally in therapy sessions.
Bruce Sinofsky: Very rarely do you see a band that allows itself to be seen as regular people. They were all dealing with the same issues most people deal with when they hit 38, 39, 40 years old. Sometimes things get a bit stale and you have to reinvent yourselves as people. You say, "What can I do to continue to make things interesting musically and interpersonally as well?"
Did you begin making this film with any particular intent in mind?
Berlinger: It was a very conscious thing for us to not make this a concert film. We made a conscious effort not to hang out with the band as fans and to draw that line. I think when the band understood this, they really respected us more [which] allowed the doors to just keep opening wider and wider.
Sinofsky: The respect that we got from them was something that we hadn’t gotten before. They never said, "Hey guys shut the cameras off, this is a little too personal."
Were there any bumps in the road when it came to the business aspect of getting this film made?
Berlinger: Midway through the process, Metallica’s record label, Elektra, wanted to turn it into a reality TV show. The band said to Elektra, "Look we don’t want this to be reality TV … it would trivialize the material. If you really want to turn this into a reality TV show, then we’re going to give you your money back." I just don’t think people would have taken this material seriously if it had been presented like that.
How do you feel about the finished film?
Sinofsky: The experience of making this film was very special. We’re storytellers. And this was a great story to tell.