Film captures unedited Metallica

Acclaimed documentary follows band's split, recovery

Movies: On Screen/DVD/Video

August 05, 2004|By Linda Schubert | Linda Schubert,SUN STAFF

It was just supposed to be a short little promotional film to keep Metallica fans happy while the band members took time to record their next album.

But then longtime bassist Jason Newsted quit, the recording sessions fell flat, a therapist was brought in and frontman James Hetfield walked out, not to return for almost a year while in rehab.

All the while, the cameras kept rolling. The resulting film, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, has been racking up critical acclaim at festivals and during its limited release.

Documentarians Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger realized early that they had the potential for much more than a promotional clip.

"Joe and I knew when we sat in that first therapy session that there was something we were capturing that probably had never been captured before in any band," Sinofsky said while in town for the Monster screening tonight at the Maryland Film Festival.

The band gave the pair unflinching access during two years of filming. Squabbles were captured as the recording session broke down and ended with Hetfield's unexpected studio exit.

"Little did I know when he slammed the door ... that was going to be it for nine months," Sinofsky said.

"One month turned into two turned into three -- the leaves changed, snow came, spring came, and all of a sudden [Hetfield's] back," Sinofsky said.

"Through conversation and showing him a little of the footage we had shot, he was convinced it was OK to proceed," he said.

And so the cameras kept rolling, capturing Hetfield's return and insistence that the band cut back its work load as part of his recovery program, which did not sit well with the others.

"You can't just come back from recovery after nine months of not telling your band whether you're going to be a band again and say, `Oh, by the way, we're going to work from 12 to 4, and you can't listen to anything after that,'" Sinofsky said.

The resulting confrontation is one of the most riveting scenes in the film.

"It was painful, but to film it and capture it was really, really good," Sinofsky said. "As a filmmaker, you're saying, `keep rolling, keep rolling, keep rolling.' It's that sort of double-edged sword -- it's what makes filmmaking filmmaking.

"You're capturing something that, if it was in your own life, you would kick the person out," he said.

Another captivating scene involves former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was booted from the band early on for his problems with alcohol and who went on to form the band Megadeth. He talks on-camera with therapist Phil Towle and drummer Lars Ulrich about his anger and resentment of the past.

"Lars invited [Mustaine] to come talk about stuff with Phil because he thought that would be good for both of them," Sinofsky said.

"We approached Dave ... and Joe talked to him and said, `Listen, we'd like to film this. Ultimately, if you don't sign a release, then we can't use it. But he signed the release at the end of it," he said.

"And the thing that amazes me is that he wasn't happy about it being in the film and sort of asked us on some level to remove it," he said. "And our feeling is that it's an important part of the film. It shows the depth that Lars is trying to sort of heal old wounds.

"And it also shows the depth of what Dave Mustaine's feelings were 18 years after the fact," Sinofsky said. "It's a very revelatory scene and one that surprises a lot of people because they just assumed there was no connection at all between those guys."

The band eventually bought the film but left creative control in the hands of Sinofsky and Berlinger.

"We passed out tapes to each of them ... and we said, `Look, we don't expect you to have all your notes now. Watch it, get back to us within the next couple of weeks,'" Sinofsky said.

"And James pushes his tape back and says, `You know what? I don't need to see this again. ... You guys promised to go deep and be truthful and you did and I really don't need to see it again,'" Sinofsky said.

"We were never booted from a room. We were never asked to leave. We were never told, `This is something you shouldn't film.' In all of my film experience, I've never had that kind of freedom."

Bruce Sinofsky will be at the Charles Theatre, 1711 N. Charles St., to answer questions after tonight's 7 p.m. sneak preview of "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster." Tickets are $10, and $8 for students and seniors. Call 410-752-8083 or

Submit a question by 4 p.m. today for's Q&A with Sinofsky at Responses will be posted tomorrow.

For film events, see Page 36.

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